L project is hell on E. 14th shops

Sidewalk closures and diversions of pedestrian traffic on E. 14th St. between Avenues A and B due to construction for the L train shutdown project have been wreaking havoc on retail shops, local merchants and advocates say. Photo by Sydney Pereira

BY SYDNEY PEREIRA | East Village small businesses are already taking the heat months ahead of the planned April 27 “official” start date for the L train shutdown.

A stretch of 14th St. between First Ave. and Avenue A has been beset by construction work to add entrances and exits for the L train at Avenue A, eventual elevators for the train, and prep the area as a staging area for the tunnel repairs.

Although residents’ complaints have been numerous and well publicized, local merchants have also already been hammered, seeing their revenue plummet.

“We’re experiencing very low business,” said Leo Katehis, a manager at the Lower East Side Coffee Shop.

A majority of Katehis’s customers are walk-in customers, but most passersby now take a pedestrian walkway set up in the street that leads them to First Ave., rather than the narrow sidewalk to access five stores, including a dry cleaners, a shoe store, an herbal medicine shop, Domino’s Pizza and the Lower East Side Coffee Shop. In fact, a construction worker gruffly guided this reporter to the pedestrian walkway in the street when she was heading toward the storefront-access walkway.

“We’re trying to survive,” Katehis said. “It’s a stressful situation.”

At the west side of the block, five businesses have already shuttered from construction woes, according to neighboring merchants and Laura Sewell, the director of the East Village Community Coalition.

“It’s really challenging,” Sewell said. “But the cultural character of our neighborhood is all about these little shops. So many areas of the city have been homogenized. Shops that used to be interesting have been taken over by national chains. We still really have so much that’s special [in the East Village].”

The employees at the Red Apple Barbershop, west of the string of shuttered shops, fear the 10-year-old shop could be next.

“Most of the foot traffic is on the road,” said Michael Vostok, the shop’s manager. The street pattern for construction sends passersby into a pathway in the streets and makes it difficult for Stuyvesant Town residents — critical clientele for the retailers — to both see and reach the shop.

In the meantime, Vostok added, “We rely on advertising and our skills.”

The barbershop was once bustling, with all four chairs filled throughout much of the day. But on a recent Tuesday morning, just one customer had trickled in before noon.

An eyebrow-threading salon, one of the shops that closed, moved further up the block in hopes of salvaging its business.

But despite the salon’s new digs, customers still avoid the block, according to one employee.

“People don’t want to walk on this side of the street,” said Rosa Perez, who works at Precise Brows. “It’s a hassle for the business. We’re trying to hold on to see what happens.”

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has done a survey of the businesses in the area, according to shop owners. But besides adding better signage and increasing storefront access, the small businesses are waiting to see how the block changes once the L shutdown formally begins.

“Honestly, we’re just sitting and waiting,” said Igor Yaguda, the owner of the Big Apple Barbershop.

Sewell hopes the city will do more.

“My ask is that our agencies go above and beyond to work together to address [and] to mitigate the impact of this as much as they possibly can, and that we are ready to help,” she said.

Sewell and the coalition’s count of vacancy rates in the East Village goes beyond the stretch of E. 14th St. impacted by the L train shutdown and ongoing prep work. Since 2014, E.V.C.C.’s vacancy count has increased from 11 percent to 15 percent. The empty storefronts are concentrated on E. 14th St.

“The 14th St. story [about vacant stores] cannot be separated from the impact of the L train construction,” Sewell said.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *