Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Prisoners of Second Avenue

Symbolic of the mind over matter nature of the Bloombergistas' support of small business (They don't mind, and the little guys don't matter) is the plight of those neighborhood retailers in the way of the construction of the Second Avenue Subway. The NY Times reports the grim picture: "The noise, dust, barricades and occasional explosions associated with construction of the long-awaited Second Avenue subway are driving away customers from businesses along the avenue and plunging many shops and restaurants into deep financial trouble, two dozen merchants said."

 So, what is the city doing? Not enough: "In July, the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce counted 29 shuttered storefronts between 63rd and 96th Streets — a once-bustling stretch where the subway’s first three stations and the connecting tunnel are being dug. Since then, at least two other businesses have closed. And while the anemic economy has surely taken its toll, many merchants say business has declined 25 percent to 50 percent over the last three years because of the hurdles posed by construction."

Now keep in mind that this is a total disaster for these small businesses-but the sanguine non-response from the so-called Economic Development Corporation-not to mention the MTA-is appalling. And, adding insult to injury was that the local merchants were bamboozled about the nature of the future disruption: "The MTA dis try to help-they posted signs: "Officials say they have honored commitments they made to minimize disruption and mitigate noise and dust. Lois Tendler, a vice president for government and community relations at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said the agency had met regularly with merchants and had signs on its Web site and at Lexington Avenue subway stations urging people to “Shop Second Avenue.”

Not much help there-and the governor deep-sixed an aid package: "Shopkeepers say they need financial help and compensation. But an effort to provide tax relief and grants was vetoed last year by Gov. David A. Paterson. “We have been incredibly responsive to every feasible request,” Ms. Tendler said. “Where we part company with shop owners is that we do not have the ability to pay them for the lost income. We use public money, and we do not know of any government entity that pays for lost business.”

But we hand out multi-million aid packages to big corporations who even hint about relocating; yet when it comes to the small businesses-it's suck wind time. But what really got us going was the totally lame response from the city: "Merchants assert that they often get a runaround when they complain to the city. Officials of the Bloomberg administration say an outreach team from Small Business Services has taken steps to make sure stores are accessible, extend utility payment plans and check that signs advise passers-by where obscured businesses are located."

What, no yellow ribbons? But the real essence of the city's laissez-faire  attitude to the plight of the small retailer is contained in the following quote: "But Giorgio Manzio, manager of the three-year-old CiaoBella, which had 25 employees, said that in the months before it closed, the restaurant was ticketed for having tables on too narrow a sidewalk — a sidewalk narrowed by construction. Abigail Lootens, a spokeswoman for the Department of Consumer Affairs, said permits had to be revoked for 13 outdoor cafes along the construction zone, with refunds given."

The essence of bureaucratic efficiency! In the midst of a man made disaster the DCA is fining stores-but in the absence of customers, the agency does have the wherewithal to refund the permit monies. These are good guys after all, n'est-ce pas? In our view, it isn't the MTA's job to remedy this calamity-it is the city that should step up. But since this isn't a multi-billion dollar real estate deal, there isn't much interest in being proactive-and putting the SBS in charge of the relief effort, is the equivalent of sending in the clowns.

What we have said about the NYC's economic development efforts is underscored in rather a stark manner by the city's blase response to economic upheaval on Second Avenue. There's no career advantage in helping small store owners-it is, however, simply the right thing to do. That the Bloomberg administration has done so little for these beleaguered merchants speaks volumes about what it is-and who it stands for.