Speak out! Show up!

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  • A proliferation of food carts have set up shop along Second Avenue following the completion of the subway line there. Omar Ismail's cart, pictured, is one of four that were doing business Tuesday morning near the northwest entrance to the 72nd Street station. Photo: Richard Khavkine

As the snow fell last week, it was “Shovel Out!” But with myriad local stores closed by anti-small business forces, fewer concerned shopkeepers were there to do the job promptly and correctly. Or at all. As Our Town readers know, an Upper Eastsider, Antal Kiss, was tragically killed when he slipped and fell on an icy sidewalk last month — not far from the Second Avenue subway stop.

Who would have thought that those businesses which survived the decade of subway construction chaos, and were supposed to be helped by the new line’s completion, would now suffer from an influx of food trucks parked near the subway stops? Aaaugh! (In Our Town Feb. 2-8, reporter Laura Hanrahan’s story, “Food Carts Proliferate after Subway Opening,” is required reading.)

Thankfully, their owners are taking this latest assault to Community Board 8 and calling 311. But the help they need most is from the community at large, which can’t afford to lose any more local “brick and mortar” eateries where you can sit down and break bread, alone or with company. Or get in out of the cold, heat and maddening crowd. And while contacting elected officials and civic groups is essential, what’s needed most are on-site protests — especially from older people who have the time and a critical need for these lifeline places. They can sit on folding chairs or in wheelchairs and on walker seats. Even just two or three there on a daily basis with “Save Our Stores/Rome is Burning” signs will raise awareness — and get media coverage. Speak out, too — politely, but firmly.

Which reminds me of Upper East Side elder Claire Rubin, who is not silent when motor vehicles fail to yield, and bikes — well, you know what they fail to do. This woman who chose Manhattan as her retirement home (she had been a junior high educator in Newton, Massachusetts) says maybe she shouldn’t speak out on the street, however politely. But we say, “if only more people did !” — and about so much more. Claire also made her co-op home more neighborly when, rather than filling mail boxes with community board meeting notices, she stood in the lobby and handed them out with a smile and the words, “Thank you so much if you can make it.” Some residents said that personal effort did prompt their attendance, and they welcomed that neighborly action. So just a little shoutout, indeed a perennial valentine, to good neighbor/citizen Claire — and to others who so quietly help build community in their own back yard. Elder people have the time and concern but need the encouragement to be their local — yes — Paul Reveres!

And all concerned need Daniel Victor’s message in the Times editorial, “Here’s Why You should Call, Not Email Your Legislators.” Legislators pay more attention to phone calls, says considerable research, and staff members taking the calls keep a record of how many certain concerns receive. And hey, with cell phones, we can call them (a lot) while, say, politely but firmly protesting food trucks parked near a Second Avenue Subway stop.

This latest assault on small business, “has just got to be nipped in the bud — right this minute!” to quote Andy Griffin’s deputy sheriff, Barney Fife. And heed former 19th Precinct Community Police Officers, Steve Petrillo and Lou Uliani’s repeated advice to the East 79th Street Neighborhood Association: “Remember, the squeaky wheel gets the grease!”

So squeak already to policymakers by email, “real mail,” as well as by phone. And squeak in person at their local offices and at civic meetings. Numbers count. And build community and inclusion by the able-bodied helping those who are not. Attend those meetings and those “sit-in” protest sites, especially now, sending those food trucks packing to places that really need their wares.

Some local numbers to call are found in this paper’s “Helpful Contacts” column. Of course, contact media, which so shape customs and views, and can hold policymakers’ feet to the fire.

It can be done if enough of us try — if enough of us try, Rome is burning, is burning — in our own backyard.


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