Jax. Hts. biz owners pan new plaza
By Rebecca Henely

Merchants on 37th Road between Broadway and 74th Street say they have seen their business drop by 50 percent or more since the city Department of Transportation has rerouted the bus routes and turned the block into what is planned to be a pedestrian plaza.

“How can I pay my employees?” asked Shazia Kausar, who has owned a restaurant on 37th Road for eight years. “How can I pay?”

The block, home to the closed Eagle Theater, is set to become a pedestrian plaza with bike lanes as part of the DOT’s Jackson Heights Neighborhood Transportation Study.

The section of road is less than a minute’s walk from major neighborhood thoroughfares Broadway and Roosevelt Avenue, the Indian and Bangladeshi commercial strips on 73rd and 74th streets and the 74th Street-Broadway station, which connects five subway lines and many bus routes. One of the station’s exits and entrances is on the block.

A few weeks ago, the block was closed to traffic, repainted and given new signs saying only bicycles were allowed to travel through. Scott Gastel of the DOT said granite blocks, tables and chairs will be added to the plaza. He said this was done in response to community requests for more public space in the district and that the project has been supported by Community Board 3 and City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights).

The councilman said two neighborhood merchant associations approved of the plan but he was open to additional dialogue.

Saed Tayyab, manager of the jewelry and watch store Moonlite Int. Inc., on the corner of 37th Road and Broadway, said DOT’s plan has already been detrimental to the businesses on the block.

He said the plan has taken away multiple parking spots in an area starved for parking, and the Q47 and Q49 buses, which used to travel down the block, have now been rerouted. Tayyab said 50 percent of his customers are non-local and use buses or cars to shop in the area.

“If people from out of town do not come here, outside money will not come here,” Tayyab said.

Gastel said the DOT was working to improve parking in the area.

Tanjina Sharmin, owner of a sari shop on 37th Road, also said she relied on bus riders for customers, who would often shop at her store after seeing something in her window from the bus.

“Sometimes they see the dress and like it and the next day they come,” she said. “Now they cannot see it.”

Tsering Phuntsok, owner of a convenience store near the 37th Road entrance to the subway station, said he used to sell five gallons of coffee a day and now sells one gallon since the change. He said the trucks that deliver his supplies also have few places to park.

“I don’t know how I’m going to get my delivery over here,” Phuntsok said.

Other business owners questioned whether the area was appropriate for a pedestrian plaza. Rita Kamdar, who works at another phone card store, said the block attracts beggars and drug users, and she believed the plaza would encourage them to stay longer.

“Two main busy roads and a busy subway station,” Kamdar said. “You’re telling me they’re going to make a park? That makes no sense.”

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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