Owners say Jackson Heights plaza hurts biz

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Jackson Heights merchants are worried that a pedestrian plaza is hurting their businesses, possibly forcing many to close.
Jackson Heights merchants are worried that a pedestrian plaza is hurting their businesses, possibly forcing many to close.

Jackson Heights store owners say sales have been pedestrian since a new plaza opened — moving a bus stop and closing off the street to cars.

The pedestrian plaza on 37th Road between 73rd Street and 74th Street, which consists of mostly South Asian businesses, opened in September of last year to create a court for residents to walk, sit and relax, but local store owners say it has driven customers away.

“The customers that we had left, and new customers come once and never come back because it is too difficult to get here,” said Shiv Dass, president of the Jackson Heights Indian Merchants Association.

The bus route that used to stop in front of the train station on 37th Road was rerouted, limiting the many straphangers that would stop by the shops for a cup of coffee, newspaper or a bite to eat.

“This plaza is closing down [the merchants’] livelihoods,” said Mohammad Rashid, a local volunteer and advocate for Jackson Heights residents.  “We’ve lost customers and revenue.  It will be difficult to get them back.”

The lack of business may force some merchants to make difficult decisions.

Nooruddin Dashti, who owns two stores on the block, said he is two months late on his rent and has been forced to begin laying off employees.

The owner of several of the block’s properties, Julio Fernandez, said he has not seen anything like this in his 30 years of ownership.

“Nobody can pay the rent because no one has any business,” Fernandez said, adding that shops have been paying them what they can in the interim.

Murad Rahman, who works in his brother’s shop on 37th Road, recently had a rent check bounce because of low business.  “We will have to close or move,” he said.

The plaza was opened for a six-month trial period ending in March. A decision will be made before then whether to make the plaza permanent or reopen the street to traffic.  The DOT will also discuss making changes to surrounding streets to make the area more conducive to shoppers and will continue to monitor the area, a spokesperson said.

“We would like to see [the plaza] work,” said Len Maniace, vice president of the Jackson Heights Beautification Group, a community organization. “We think it would work with some support from the merchants.”

Maniace, who said he has spoken with some of the business owners and is willing to see if they can find a common ground, said the plaza’s potential would have been better realized had the trial been during the spring and summer — a time more conducive to walking and sitting outside.

“We had a six-month trial period.  It didn’t work out,” Dass said.  “It’s time to move it somewhere.  I support the plaza, just in the right place.”

Both Dass and Rashid suggested moving the plaza down one block, a spot Maniace believes may cause even more problems than currently exist.

“I don’t see why you’d want to put it on a block that has people living on it,” said Maniace, who envisions the plaza as a destination.

If made permanent, the plaza, which now has several blue tables and chairs placed on the block, would be beautified with trees and planters.

“I think they are missing an opportunity to have this turn into a really nicely manicured pedestrian plaza,” he said.  “I could see that becoming a place where restaurants would want to move to.  I think it could turn into a destination for New Yorkers, not just the surrounding neighborhoods.”