By Alex Robinson
Willets Point business owners mulled difficult decisions this weekend as the first relocation deadline passed.
The city offered a payment of 12 months rent to any business owners who relocated off city-owned land in Willets Point by Nov. 30. The City Council passed a $3 billion plan in October that would see the blighted area, occupied for years by auto repair shops and some manufacturing businesses, redeveloped into a commercial, retail and residential site.
Some business owners took the relocation deal and moved on with or without a new location. More than 30 businesses have relocated, signed a lease elsewhere or are close to doing so, said the New York City Economic Development Corporation.
Johnny Yaqubi owned Johnny’s Auto Body and Repair Shop for 10 years before he accepted an offer to relocate.
“What choice do I have?” said Yaqubi.
But he did not have a new location yet when the city came to take the keys to his business. The city will pay him $14,000, which was the equivalent cost of 12 months rent for Yaqubi.
“That’s what they said, but I have not gotten paid yet,” he said.
Yaqubi has not found a new location for his business and was not sure where he would relocate.
The city also evicted several businesses Friday as the deadline loomed.
Blas Olivares owned his auto body repair shop for 20 years before the city forced him to vacate his store Friday. Olivares claimed he recently had a meeting with a city lawyer in which he was told he could stay until Dec. 31.
“I’ll try to go to another place, but we don’t have any place to take the business,” he said.
Olivares said he would put his belongings in storage for now until he figures out a new location.
A group of 52 business owners, represented by an organization called the Sunrise Cooperative, are closing in on a deal with the city to relocate together. The group is in negotiations with a large facility in Hunts Point, and is also looking at locations in Astoria, Maspeth and Brooklyn.
“Everyone said you won’t get anything from the city,” said Sergio Aguirre, an organizer for the group. “We know this isn’t the best agreement with the city, but it’s something. It was this or nothing.”
Aguirre acknowledged the new location will not be the same, but will be better than relocating separately.
“It’s going to be good for us because there’s a lot of customers who come into Willets Point because of the price,” he said. “We had the best prices in New York for auto repairs. We’ll only have a portion of the customers in our new location, but we’ll rebuild that again.”
Several business owners have also vowed to stay in the hope that a better deal will be reached with the city. Bijy Kumar, who has owned a business that sells wheels and rims for 11 years, said he has no plan to relocate anytime soon.
He has not even thought about where he would go.
“I have no idea. No place,” he said. “It depends how hard we fight.”
Willets Point tenant business leader Arturo Olaya has appealed to the city to provide business owners with a six-month extension to relocate.
The next deadline remaining business owners will face is Jan. 31. Business owners who relocate off city-owned land before the end of January will receive a payment worth six months of their rent. If they leave after the deadline, they will receive nothing.
Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.