Hospital closing is an emergency for businesses
By Albert Amateau
Since the closing of St. Vincent’s Hospital at the end of April, more than 20 small businesses have shut their doors and left the neighborhood of the hospital.
That was only one of the dire statistics that came out of the Greenwich Village-Chelsea Chamber of Commerce forum on Tuesday regarding the economic impact of the hospital closing.
“People have been scrambling to find new healthcare for the community. But up to now, few have been looking at the impact on business, and that’s our job at G.V.C.C.C.,” Tony Juliano, president of the chamber, said at the June 29 forum at the L.G.B.T. Center on W. 13th St.
The chamber is assessing the immediate impact of the neighborhood’s loss of 3,500 hospital employees, thousands of visitors to patients and the hundreds of people who supplied and served the 161-year-old institution. In partnership with the chamber, New York University is conducting a study of the long-term business impact of the hospital closing.
Preliminary figures from the chamber’s survey of businesses on Greenwich Ave. and on a few blocks of Seventh Ave. near the hospital indicate that more than half the stores have lost between 20 and 50 percent of business in the past few months.
Of the 20 businesses that failed, most were in food service and eight were other kinds of retailers, including a florist and a barbershop. At least two businesses relocated out of the neighborhood. The gift boutique Tina Tang, for example, moved from 49 Greenwich Ave. to the former Limelight nightclub location, now the Limelight Marketplace, on Sixth Ave. at 21st St.
While the loss of business is the main problem, neighborhood merchants are struggling with high rents, which have not come down despite the increase in commercial vacancies. Maria Passannante Derr, a Community Board 2 member and a chamber member, told the forum that the space formerly occupied by Artepasta, a longtime restaurant that recently closed on Greenwich Ave. at Perry St., is being offered for rent at $40,000 per month.
Derr also said it was important for the business community to know the fate of the St. Vincent’s property on Seventh Ave. between W. 11th and W. 12th Sts.
“We have to know who is going to occupy the site and how it will be developed,” Derr said.
Juliano said the chamber, whose membership is about 85 percent small businesses, is talking to landlords about reducing or at least holding the line on commercial rents. He also paid tribute to local elected officials, including Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Assemblymember Deborah Glick and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who have been working on the problems of neighborhood small business.
Malynda Vigliotti, who runs Boom Boom Beauty Bar, at 35 Seventh Ave., said her business was down 25 percent since the hospital closed, but her landlord is not willing to consider a rent adjustment.
“It’s mind-blowing that we don’t have a hospital,” Vigliotti said. She told about a mistake she made through ignorance on her workers’ compensation filing this year.
“I got hit with an $86,000 penalty,” she said. “I went to Christine Quinn, who helped me reduce it, but I still had to pay a penalty.”
Tyler Martin and Sandra Heng, who started Roasting Plant Coffee, at 75 Greenwich Ave., a year and a half ago, told the forum the reduction in neighborhood foot traffic since the hospital closing has cut their revenue by 20 percent.
“We’ve made some of that up by going after corporate accounts, like the Hyatt hotel in Midtown,” Martin said. “And we’ve had to cut back hours.”
Of the 25 businesses on Greenwich Ave. in a G.V.C.C.C. survey, eight have reduced hours of operation, five have reduced their inventories, seven have reduced the number of employees, and five had to follow more than one of those strategies to stay in business.
“We’re on the Internet but we’ve had to cut back on the advertising that directs customers to our Web site,” said Ann Freedman, owner of The Original Firestore, which sells Fire Department and other 9/11 mementos at 17 Greenwich Ave.
“Tour buses go by every day but they don’t mention the businesses on the block,” Freedman added. She urged Greenwich Ave. businesses to band together and patronize each other’s shops.
Michael Piazza, a marketing executive with Gristede’s, said the reduction in foot traffic in the neighborhood is most apparent at the supermarket chain’s Jefferson Market on Sixth Ave. at 10th St. He noted that Gristede’s last year was about to partner with St. Vincent’s in a project to help senior citizens.
“I lost a partner who would have helped me help seniors,” Piazza said, regarding the hospital closing.
Andy Robson, who runs the Web site www.shopgreenwichvillage.com, told the forum that two years ago he made a video of 87 merchants on Greenwich Ave. and by this time more than 20 percent of them have disappeared.
“Businesses are under constant pressure. You can’t even put a sign out front without a challenge from Landmarks,” said Robson, referring to the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission and its policing of the Greenwich Village Historic District. Robson is making a documentary, “Gone But Not Forgotten,” about neighborhood business closings.
Brad Hoylman, a Community Board 2 member who works for the Partnership for New York City, told the forum that Google is planning an Internet portal for every small business in the city. Merchants may review the Google sites to make sure they are correct, Hoylman said.
Representatives of NYC Business Solutions a division of the city’s Department of Small Business Services and the federal Small Business Administration told merchants at the forum about free services, counseling and loans that could help them survive. In addition, Wachovia/Wells Fargo and HSBC executives were on hand to offer advice to the merchants.
In contrast to the problems facing businesses, G.V.C.C.C. president Juliano told The Villager that the annual Gay Pride March provided a huge economic benefit to the Village and Chelsea.
“With an estimated 500,000 to a million spectators, the parade has the year’s biggest economic impact in the area, especially for gay-related businesses, but all businesses benefit,” he said.