Bye-bye barricades

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After years of construction, small business owners on the Upper East Side hope the new subway will bring more customers


  • The 86th Street station on Second Avenue on Dec. 30. Photo: The Governor's Office

  • Second Avenue looking south from 78th Street after construction equipment for the Second Avenue subway was dismantled. Photo: Charmaine P. Rice

By Charmaine P. Rice

Free at last.

Of the Second Avenue Subway construction, that is. Small business owners from 72nd to 96th Streets are welcoming the New Year with a renewed sense of optimism and gratitude for barricade-free sidewalks and storefronts.

Business owners, managers, and employees expressed relief from the seemingly never-ending construction that plagued their businesses for nearly a decade. Those in the small-business community spanning this stretch of the Upper East Side were all affected — from neighborhood staples to newly-established shops alike.

“I’m not going to miss the constant disruption,” said Dave Goodside, owner of the Beach Cafe, a popular Upper East Side restaurant. “The noise, the jack-hammering, smoke, and being blocked and obstructed behind construction equipment won’t be missed.” The iconic eatery, located on the corner of 70th Street and Second Avenue, has been a neighborhood fixture for the past 48 years. “We are a place where real New Yorkers go for comfort food — for a bowl of chili or a hamburger — and to talk about the news of the day.”

The restaurant’s location is poised for further exposure: two new gleaming entrances to the Second Avenue Subway at 72nd Street are located mere steps away. “As to the future, it will be a learning curve to see what kind of impact the new subway line will bring,” said Goodside. “I’m excited about it.”

The dining establishment couldn’t rest on its longstanding reputation alone to weather the effects of the ongoing construction. Goodside acknowledged that city agencies were cooperative and responsive. “We had to prepare in order to survive.”

Unfortunately, many businesses did not survive, and shuttered storefronts are a common sight.

Without a loyal customer base to rely on, newer businesses were doubly challenged with attracting customers. Obstruction of their storefronts was a key issue during the construction, hindering signage and blocking entrances. “We’ve been here for nine months and when the barricades came down, customers were surprised to see us here, with some even asking if we were new to the area,” said Turkijana Giakmani, manager of Kolorbar salon, located on Second Avenue between 72nd and 73rd Streets. During the construction, the entrance was barely visible, tucked in between barricades. Giakmani said she and her team relied on word of mouth, Kolorbar’s strong brand identity, and flyers they distributed to attract customers.

Across the street from Kolorbar, Ashok Chauhan, general manager of Rangoli Exquisite Indian Cuisine, echoed Giakmani’s sentiments. “We’ve been here for two years and two months and visibility was a big issue for us,” he said. “It was hard for passerby to see us.” The restaurant’s neighbor, Cafe Mingala, a Burmese restaurant, did not survive.

Further up on Second Avenue between 82nd and 83rd Streets is Promises Fulfilled, a toy store that specializes in personalized, hand-painted toys and gifts for children. The store has been in business for 26 years and owner Caryn Klausner expressed the frustration she faced during the construction. “People thought that the streets were closed,” Klausner said. “Once the streets opened up … there were some people who came in and thought that we were a brand new store.”

A large trailer previously blocked the entrance to her store, making it difficult for customers to pick up larger items such as toy chests, scooters, and chairs. “There were many times I had to carry customers’ items to their cars a block or two down because they couldn’t drive up to the front,” said Klausner. She cited customer loyalty, a strong reputation in this niche business, and word-of-mouth as key factors that helped her stay in business during the construction.

On the corner of 94th and Second Avenue is A-Jiao Sichuan Cuisine, which has been in business the past three years. “Our biggest obstacle was a big hole in the street that made it difficult for customers to enter the restaurant,” explained Saite Chen, an employee. “They had to walk past the restaurant and around to be able to come in through the side door. Then there was the noise and dust,” he added. Despite these setbacks, Chen — like so many along Second Avenue — is optimistic that the subway line will bring in new customers. “We anticipate an increase in business.”

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