Saturday, April 16, 2011

Liberty Avenue Stores Struggle to Survive by Anna Gustafson - Queens Chronicle

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Mukesh Patel, left, and Joseph Bruno say the new traffic pattern and subway construction, inset, has deterred customers from frequenting their shops. Photo by Anna Gustafson

A city plan meant to curb accidents and prevent pedestrian deaths has instead left business owners struggling to survive on a commercial strip in Ozone Park that will soon be gasping for its last breath if the Department of Transportation does not make changes to the area, store owners and employees say.

“It’s affecting us so badly,” said Abdul Alawdi, owner of Fine Food Market and Deli at 93-10 Liberty Ave. “Three places have already gone out of business because of this. Who’s next? It’s going to be a ghost town here.”

The DOT in November made Liberty Avenue a one-way eastbound street between Crossbay Boulevard and 93rd Street as part of its plan to address congestion and injuries and deaths from accidents at the Liberty Avenue and Woodhaven, Crossbay, and Rockaway boulevards intersection.

DOT officials noted between 2004 and 2008 there were 207 injuries for pedestrians, bicyclists and individuals in motor vehicles at the Rockaway Boulevard and Liberty Avenue intersection between 94th and 96th streets.

Shop owners, however, said city officials need to figure out a way to change the intersection without settling for what has become a death sentence for stores in the area. A 99-cent store, laundromat and fast-food chicken restaurant have all gone out of business since the plan was implemented, and the shops that are left have seen a drastic drop in customers.

“How many more stores do they want to close?” asked David M. Quintana, a member of the Ozone Park Residents Block Association. “A major commercial strip can’t survive on a one-way street.”

Kalish Pharmacy, which has been in the neighborhood for 100 years, has experienced at least a 30 percent drop in business, according to pharmacist Joseph Bruno.

“Businesses are closing, people are out of work, it’s terrible,” Bruno said. “I grew up in Ozone Park, I have ties to this neighborhood, and I want to stay here.”

Ram Stationary and Cards owner Mukesh Patel said his business has dropped about 50 percent, and Alawdi said he has seen a decrease of about 40 to 45 percent.

“Business has gone down unbearably,” said Patel, who has owned his stationary store for the past 21 years. “We’re losing $600, $700 a day. It’s a terrible situation.”

On top of the one-way street, business owners have had to deal with reconstruction on the subway stairs leading to the A-line, which has temporarily closed off the entrance to Liberty Avenue from Woodhaven Boulevard.

Shop owners and employees said they would like the DOT to make Liberty a two-way street again. That, Community Board 10 Chairwoman Betty Braton said, is unlikely, but she did note that the DOT reversed its decision and said it will remove the back-in angled parking spaces on Liberty between Crossbay and 93rd Street after business owners complained they was too difficult for customers to use.

“We’re looking at that whole intersection and all the ramifications, and we’re engaged in ongoing discussions with DOT to see if there are further modifications that can be done,” Braton said.

DOT spokeswoman Nicole Garcia said the agency is incorporating community input to develop further plans for the area.

“Safety is our top priority, and the project implemented in this area is designed to boost safety for all street users,” Garcia said in an e-mailed statement.

Kimberly Liverpool, manager at Tommy’s Pizzeria, said she hopes the city seriously considers input from shop owners, especially since her store is losing about $200 to $300 a day because of the traffic change.

“Customers don’t even come this way anymore,” Liverpool said. “Even on a Friday and Saturday it’s horrible. I had four people working here, and now I’m down to two.”

Terranova Bakery manager Maria Monzon said her daily average customer count has dropped from about 200 to 150.