BY JON CRONIN
Store owners along Queens Boulevard claim to have lost up to 25 percent of their business due to the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT) taking away parking spaces. Now, they are organizing to have the implementation reversed.
The new bike lanes, aimed at easing congestion and traffic fatalities, have taken up parking spaces utilized by customers of shops, bars and restaurants near the Rego Center Mall.
Gary Taylor, the owner of Tropix Bar & Lounge, estimated that local businesses on his block—between 63rd Avenue and 64th Road—lost 17 parking spaces due to the new bike lane and loading zones.
Due to the new nature of the eastbound service road, Taylor believes, “It’s much more dangerous now than it’s ever been.”
In nearly three years, there have been no deaths on Queens Boulevard, but now shoppers cannot find parking, leading them to double-park and forcing other vehicles to drive into the bike lane to get around them.
Taylor and other business owners on the corridor stated they have lost much of their business as a result of the bike lanes.
“I work hard to make my place a destination,” said Jay Parker, owner of Ben’s Best Delicatessen, located at 120-55 Queens Blvd.
Ben’s Best has hosted famous chefs—such as Guy Fieri of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives—and such actors as Danny DeVito and Robert De Niro, who filmed a scene from the film The Comedian at the deli. Parker said that his father opened Ben’s Best 71 years ago and he took it over after his father died.
But if business doesn’t pick up, Parker will have to continue cutting hours on Jan. 1 and consider layoffs.
Yasin Labuk—one of the owners of the Black Sea, a Mediterranean restaurant located at 95-36 Queens Blvd.—said that the new loading zones cause double-parking and two- to three-block traffic backups on the service road in front of his store. He noted that he has lost $6,000 to $8,000 per month since the bike lanes were implemented in the fall.
Labuk, who has owned the restaurant for four years, said that his eatery’s proximity to the Rego Center Mall frequently leads to an increase in business during the holiday season. Instead, he has seen a 30 percent decrease from last year.
Labuk said that he and his partner struggle to pay their rent and have already cut hours for their employees. He added that he might be forced to lay off employees if business does not pick up. Nicole Lim, owner of Sake Sushi at 95-34 Queens Blvd., said that she has seen a 30 percent drop in her business, while Angelo Sabino—whose family opened Avellino Pizzeria in 1977—said that his customers complain of a lack of parking and his suppliers get $115 tickets when dropping off $300 worth of deliveries.
On Dec. 11, Taylor said that he walked around, spoke to 40 store owners and invited them to a Dec. 18 meeting at his establishment to discuss how they can organize and present their case to the community board, DOT and mayor’s office.
Business owners said that not only are they losing business, but the bike lanes are hardly being utilized.
“Maybe in Brooklyn it’s more popular,” said Parker. “This isn’t a young community.”
George Raptis, manager of The Diner Bar at 97-45 Queens Blvd., said that when he works a 10-hour shift, he often won’t see even one person using the bike lane.
“It’s terrible,” he said. “All my guests—that’s the number-one complaint.”
A DOT spokesman said that the safety redesign was installed to protect those who travel by foot, bike and car during this year’s construction between Eliot Avenue and Yellowstone Boulevard.
“We collected surveys and feedback from businesses and community members through workshops, online interaction and real-time engagements,” the spokesman said.
The spokesman noted that during planning, the agency received feedback from 500 individuals and visited 89 businesses. He added that the delivery zones are based on merchants’ own observations regarding how to prevent double-parking.