Road closure hurting Willets Point businesses, say owners


| mchan@queenscourier.com |

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan
THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

Business has come to a screeching halt for about 20 auto shops stunted by construction near Citi Field, The Courier has learned.

“It’s crushing us,” said store owner Sal Yaloz. “We’re really, really suffering. I just want to work, and you don’t hear that too often.”

The city shut out business for nearly two dozen storefronts down 34th Avenue when it closed off the roadway at 126th Street entirely about three weeks ago, store owners said.

Construction from the first phase of a major $3 billion project to transform Willets Point has been gradually cutting down income for area businesses since last October, they said.

But the strip of stores in the project’s second phase was brought to a complete standstill when the major street was barricaded.

“This is a main road. If you close it, it’s like closing a main artery to your heart,” said David Antonacci, co-owner of Crown Container.

Asad Zamayar, who runs Lightning Auto Service, said the stores heavily depend on street traffic.

“If there are no cars, there is no money,” he said. “When the road is closed, there is no business.”

Determined motorists could instead loop around and enter from 127th Street, but shop owners say few take the detour.

“If you can’t get into this area, you’re going to go somewhere else,” Antonacci said.
Yaloz, who almost single-handedly runs Fast Tire Shop, estimates losing 80 percent of his business since the street closed.

“My tax bill is still coming. I still have to pay rent, but I don’t have regular income coming in,” he said.

Business owner Charles Akah, who has a corner alignment shop, totaled his losses to at least $80,000. He said he used to see between 10 and 15 customers daily.

“If I get one or two now, I’m very lucky,” he said. “I feel bad for a business that’s been there for 20 years. I’m hardly paying my rent, let alone my taxes to the city.”

The street temporarily reopened on August 22 for the US Open but closes again September 10 when the international tennis tournament is over.

The day after the concrete street barriers were lifted, Yaloz said he saw more customers that morning than he had all week.

“There was a huge difference,” he said.

But the two week break is not enough, store owners said.

“I’m hoping they’ll have some sympathy and open up the streets for good so we have access for our customers to come in,” Akah said.

The city’s Economic Development Corporation said officials are “currently reviewing possible steps towards mitigation,” which includes possibly adding more signage for “increased visibility.”

“We have been in contact with these businesses for several weeks,” said spokesperson Patrick Muncie, “including speaking with the owners directly at last week’s public informational meeting.”

Traffic and business resumed for the strip of auto shops on 34th Avenue one day after the street temporarily reopened.

 

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