Volume 75, Number 23 | Oct. 26 - Nov. 01, 2005

A special Villager supplement.

Construction is double-whammy for Orchard merchants

By Caitlin Eichelberger

Villager photos by Clayton Patterson
Above, Sal Bartolomeo of Rosario’s Pizza always has a kind word, but lately he’s been concerned about business. Below, Joseph “Slima” Williams, seen at Orchard and Stanton Streets, who used to be a maintenance worker at the former CHARAS/El Bohio cultural and community center on East Ninth Street, is also in the pizza business now, delivering for Two Boots Pizza restaurant on Avenue A.
Although some are looking forward to new development on the Lower East Side in the meantime, construction of new buildings is hindering local business.

Merchants on Orchard Street between East Houston and Stanton Streets are being blocked from potential customers by construction barricades lining both the west and east sides of the street. Because some local merchants are noticing a drop in business, the Lower East Side Business Improvement District is initiating a small-scale effort to sooth the sales slump.

“It affects us tremendously because the sidewalk is closed on both sides of the street,” said Yurn, owner of V.I.P. Leather Gallery at 194 Orchard Street. Yurn, who declined to share his last name, said his sales have dropped 75 percent since construction began in the spring.

Summer business for Sal Bartolomeo, owner of Rosario’s Pizza, was also disappointing. “This summer business really didn’t pick up the way we expect. It was much slow,” he said. Bartolomeo said he worried at first that it was isolated to his business, but quickly recognized the problem was felt across the board in his area. Aside from the construction site, which he compared to “Ground Zero,” Bartolomeo also attributed the decline in business to a number of bar closings near his restaurant on the corner of Orchard and Stanton Streets.

The barriers are due to two development projects: the construction of the Pomeranc Group’s luxury hotel tower on the west side of Orchard Street and of Morris Platt’s multistory residential complex on the east side. Joseph Cunin, executive director of the Lower East Side BID, said the situation presents a unique and unusual challenge. “I would have preferred that it is not on each side [of the street], but we don’t have any control over how that works,” Cunin said.

The BID is “trying to think of ways to ameliorate the problem,” Cunin said. They have selected 10 area artists to convert the construction barricades into outdoor gallery space, expressing their take on the Lower East Side’s past and present. The “L.E.S. Paint Out” is Sun. Nov. 6 from noon to 5 p.m. Cunin said the intention is to “create interest” to pedestrians to walk around the barricades and continue shopping.

Right now, Yurn said, the street looks like a dead end. Yurn said he contacted the BID twice about placing a banner across the street informing pedestrians that the street is open.

“Write all you can about it,” Yurn said, “because nothing has been done.”

Cunin, who acknowledged Yurn’s requests, said the BID’s concerns are balanced between fostering business and aesthetics. As the holidays near, the BID intends to hang holiday decorations across the street, and then will consider further options.

A 2006 completion date is anticipated for both construction projects. Once finished, businesses stand to profit from the influx of tourists and residents.

“I realize that the pain involved in waiting for that to happen is very difficult for a merchant,” Cunin said.

But, as Bartolomeo pointed out, “this neighborhood is in changing stage.” He likened it to a rose with thorns — “even the beauty, sometimes painful.”

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