We attended Hiram Monserrate’s press conference Tuesday on the Queens stadium and as usual the councilman stood up for small business, this time for the hundreds of Willets Point car repair shop owners. The current vision for redeveloping the Shea Stadium area for the Olympics includes placing a number of new facilities where these existing businesses now stand. Unfortunately, this situation is eerily similar to the Bronx Terminal Market situation where little or no concern is shown to mom-and-pop operators that have been in the community for years and provide and are vital to the economy.
(We must point out that Councilman Tony Avella of Queens is backing Councilman Monserrate’s position 100% and, after talking with him at last night’s Bronx Dinner, we were happy to hear him reiterate his desire to see the Willets Point businesses treated equitably).
What makes the case intriguing is that there are close to 500 automobile businesses in Willets Point. The estimate is that there may be at least 5,000 people working in the area targeted for condemnation. Most of the business owners as well as their workers are new immigrants who live and work in Queens. The key issue will be: How do we preserve these mostly thriving businesses in the face of redevelopment?
As usual, the perspective of the city appears to be that a “blighted” or “slum” area needs to be renovated. No one who visits Willets Point Boulevard and 126th Street will ever confuse it with 5th Avenue but that doesn’t take away from the fact that the area is a hub of significant economic activity. And, if you want to consider the area bighted then who but the city is to blame for these conditions? After all, what other area of New York hasn’t had its road paved in 50 years?
Wither John Liu?
In Paul Coldford’s story in yesterday’s Daily News there were extensive quotes from Councilmember John Liu who represents Flushing, the area directly abetting Willets Point. John speaks glowingly about the development opportunities at Willets Point but offers no caveats or concerns about existing businesses.
This is disappointing but not surprising. As a member of the Council’s Consumer Affairs committee Liu has consistently taken positions that are hostile to small business. In hearing he has voiced his support for legislation increasing the vendor presence on city streets and has also backed a bill to increase the enforcement powers of the Department of Consumer Affairs.
Now is the time for John Liu to send a signal to his own small business community – the thousands of Chinese and Korean storeowners in his district – that he can also be a champion of the little guy’s interests. Needless to say, Liu has a lot of convincing to do.
For additional coverage of Monserrate's press conference in the Spanish media check out this El Diario story as well as this story in Hoy.