With the holiday season approaching, small businesses on Second Avenue are calling for the MTA to keep true to their initial Dec. 31 deadline for opening the long-awaited subway line along the avenue.
MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast said last week that the day the agency decides an exact opening date is approaching.
“We do need to set a date, at which time we say we’re a go or we’re not a go,” Prendergast said following the MTA board’s Nov. 16 meeting. “There has been a tremendous amount of focus, more so than I can ever remember about trying to make the committed date of December 31.”
MTA representatives did not respond to several requests seeking clarification about when that date might be set.
Some of the small business owners along Second Avenue expressed skepticism that the long-in-the-works project would be complete by year’s end.
Samuel Musovic, who owns the restaurant Vero, on Second Avenue and 77th Street, said business had dipped up to 35 percent since construction on the project started in 2007.
His is not the only business to have suffered. Dozens of shops and businesses along the avenue, from just below 70th Street to the 90s, along the project’s first phase, have been burdened by construction, noise, decreased frontage and reduced parking. Many have closed altogether.
“People have it in their minds that it’s still cluttered, there’s still a lot of construction and they don’t walk on Second Avenue,” Musovic said at a press event Nov. 15. “They don’t want to go through the hassle and bustle of debris and it’s basically unsafe.”
Residents and visitors now opting to walk, shop and eat down less hectic First, Third and even Lexington Avenues, he said. “Businesses have been holding on (by) the skin of their teeth,” Musovic said. “Every day is crucial to them.”
Elliot Hurdy, who lives on the Upper East Side, spoke of the challenges for pedestrians, particularly senior citizens. People who are older, he said, have trouble walking, and reroute to alternate paths. “I’m constantly walking back and forth and it’s very difficult,” Hurdy said at the press event. “They have construction constantly going on. You have to be afraid that something is going to hit you.”
It’s difficult to determine how many businesses have shuttered or been displaced since construction began. The Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, whose president, Jessica Walker, said earlier this year that a tally of those numbers would be complete in August, declined last week to release its findings. According to the MTA, the chamber “is a partner with MTA Capital Construction in support of local establishments as construction continues on the Second Avenue Subway.”
Musovic said that unanticipated project delays would prove devastating to small businesses in a neighborhood that’s seen a proliferation of “For Rent” posted on Second Avenue storefronts since the project began. And, he said, the pattern won’t stop.
“The only people who can survive is the McDonalds, the Chipotles and the bank,” he said. “That’s all you’re going to see if the MTA doesn’t step it up and keep their word.”
Still, he suggested the subway route’s opening would, eventually, bring a boom to the are, with businesses and shops reaping the benefits of increased foot traffic, he said.
Through a representative, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, who has on several occasions praised the project’s progress — giving it an A+ as recently as Oct. 25 — declined to address a possible delay in the line’s opening.
In statement accompanying her “final report card” on the project’s first phase, Maloney said the MTA had told her “that as of October 1, the project was 98% complete” and that the agency was working toward a Dec. 31 opening.
Hurdley and Musovic, however, remain doubtful and continued to hope against potential delays.
“The fact of the matter is, this has been going on for years and years.” Hurdley said. “What makes you think it’s going to be open in February?”