CORONA — Vijay Mankotian has owned a business at Willets Point for 20 years, and he wants customers to know he's still still around to swap out their tires and rims — in spite of all the demolition going on around him.
Last year he spent $40,000 to move his VIP Tires and rim shop from 37th Avenue a few feet away to Willets Point Boulevard, a small change that put him in phase two of proposed revitalization of the area, which gives him more time.
But as drivers see buildings razed on 126th Street, a process that began last year, they think he's gone, too.
"After city demolition of the property, people are thinking Willets Point is closed," the 40-year-old shop owner said. "We are doing like 40 percent business, 60 percent, people thinking it's closed."
Vijay Mankotian in front of his shop, VIP Tires. (DNAinfo/Katie Honan)
He and close to 100 other businesses are now taking part in a marketing and social media campaign — "Willets Point: Open for Business" — and city officials said they are "evaluating options" to assist the industrial area that's filled with shops that can replace glass, recycle sawdust and repair engines.
Robert LoScalzo, a documentary filmmaker, interviewed 30 business owners for a promotional video that debuted last week.
His goal is to share business information and updates on Willets Point's development, showcasing the reasonably-priced auto body shops that employ dozens of people, including many immigrants.
"The men and women here have family heritages from all around the globe, exemplifying the diversity of Queens," he said.
Business owners also hope to work with the city as it figures out what's next for the Iron Triangle.
"Development is definitely happening in certain areas, but in certain areas there's no plans," said Sam Sambucci, who owns an auto salvage business on 127th Street and who came up with the idea for a Facebook page.
They still struggle with the longtime complaint of unpaved roads and poor infrastructure, which has only gotten worse through the years.
"If you can see past the streets it's a great, wonderful, diverse neighborhood," he said, touting the one-stop shopping for auto repairs.
Stores have suffered for years without proper drainage in the street and the lack of bathrooms. The streets don't get plowed during snowstorms, and some business owners have poured their own asphalt to repair one of multiple potholes.
"If they fix the street, everything would be better," Mankotian said. "If the road is good, I might have more business. The road is the problem."
A Department of Transportation official said they are now working with the Economic Development Corporation to figure out the next steps after Sambucci took EDC's President James Patchett on a tour of the area last month..
"The main request we heard was around street conditions, and we’re currently coordinating with DOT to evaluate potential ways to address those requests," a spokesman for the EDC said.
But State Sen. Tony Avella, a longtime advocate for the business owners and a plaintiff in the successful suit to squash the "Willets West" mall plan, said he'll believe it when he sees it.
"It's not the fault of these businesses, it's the fault of the city that never paid attention up until the time the city wanted to take the property to help mega-million developers," he said of the pothole-laden streets.
"They're still operating, the owners still employ people in the community, and they're still viable even if the city doesn't pay attention."