BY JON CRONIN
Western Queens elected officials and vociferous business owners on 30th Street in Astoria spoke out this week about their hardships contending with nine months of MTA work on the elevated N and W subway stations.
Business owners said that they are losing more than half their business with closed N and W subway stations at 30th and 36th avenues and no on-street parking due to construction zones since the stations closed in October. They also noted that it is difficult to see the shops along 31st Avenue with the construction fencing and equipment blocking views from the street.
The shop owners demanded that the MTA institute shuttle buses to and from the stations to help bring back some of the area’s vital foot traffic.
Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) announced at a March 9 press conference on the noisy corner of 31st Street and Newtown Avenue that she has introduced new legislation that, if passed, would give small businesses an income and franchise tax credits that could cover up to 100 percent of their lost income due to state or city infrastructure projects.
Those businesses would have to prove that they have lost at least 25 percent of their sales due to an infrastructure project.
The credits would begin with 2018 taxes and be limited to businesses with 100 or fewer full-time employees.
“This train line is the spine of Astoria,” Simotas said.
She noted that she introduced the bill since the MTA “has never come to the table with anything credible” regarding relief for the shop owners.
Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) said that in a recent City Council budget hearing on the MTA, Chairman Joe Lhota refused to give detailed answers on what in the 31st Street project was cosmetic and what was structural.
“He just gave me a bunch of photos and asked me, ‘Would you like me to put it back the way it was?’” said Constantinides.
Vasillios Gatzonis, one of the owners of Akropolis Meat Market on 30th Avenue, said that he lost nearly 80 percent of his business when the stations closed.
“You can’t even see my shop from the street,” he said of the store, which has been in his family for 75 years, and pleaded with Simotas and Constantinides to advocate for the shuttle buses.
He noted that the Easter holiday is coming up and if foot traffic does not pick up, he could lose more than a third of his annual profits. Gatzonis said that he would rather have the project spread out over four years than have it kill his business in nine months.
Robert Battipaglia—the owner of Grand Wine and Liquor, which has been his family’s business for 75 years—said that Easter also makes up a significant portion of his yearly profits. In the five months since the project began, Battipaglia said that he has reduced his employee’s hours and severely cut his stock. Battipaglia has instead spread out product across the shelves to make them look full.
Jesse Tang—the owner of Pink Nori, a Japanse fusion restaurant farther down 30th Avenue—said that his restaurant has seen a drop in foot traffic, but added that he is lucky he has loyal customers and a large base of delivery customers.
“We’ve had a loss, but not as big,” he said.
Simotas’s office pointed out after the meeting that she wrote a letter to MTA New York City Transit President Andy Byford, reminding him that more than 60 business owners met with MTA representatives in early February to describe the dire drop-off in their business and to call for shuttle bus service to the area.