Our Shopping Street
If you are thinking like me as in how does a ninety-nine cents store among a sea of 99 cent stores afford the rent in the location where Jamaica Savings used to be, you, like me, have been scratching your head. The street, home to new underserved residents compliments of the ‘hotel’ on the east side of the one hundred block, is nastier than ever with no hope of recovery. Just when you think it could not get any worse, it does. You know what they say about setting a low bar. It can always be lowered. Well, that is Beach 116th in a nutshell.
A few weeks ago a local merchant was beaten up in his place of business on Beach 116 Street. Parents do not allow their children to walk the street unchaperoned. Even FTW, which stood for F*** The World, wasn’t mean enough to last it out. The Moceans store that preceded FTW saw continual acts of vandalism and, the coup de gras, an assault on the owner. Summer traffic makes our crime statistics soar. And, the police are thankful that there are only ten weekends where they have to take their lives in their hands patrolling.
When I first moved into the neighborhood, the “village” as 16th was called by the old guard, was buzzing but a bit worn out. It was worth saving because the stores were a necessity for the neighborhood. Men’s shops and women’s shops, the bakery, Dotty’s, Westrich’s, Woolworth’s, Sandbox Bootery, Cushman’s, The Greek’s (next to the ocean on the east side of the street), Jamaica Savings, Georges, Blum’s Insurance, Rollerskating Rink, multiple beauty salons, whatever one needed to eke through the week without running into Brooklyn was there. Then, the street was worth saving. And, did I try!
I begged the mayor’s office to look at the big picture. Reality is, in order for any store to ‘make it’ on 16th, the city had to subsidize the rent or the entrepreneur because a business cannot make a year’s income in ten weeks. Added to this is the snowbird factor, winters here as far as business is concerned are dead.
How can a business survive on 16th? In order for a business to survive the owners either have to have owned the building for decades controlling their costs of doing business; or, they must charge a fortune for their merchandise to compensate for the seasonal lag. I recall how upset I was when the parking meter charge went up from 25 cents for half an hour to 25 cents for twenty minutes. Philosophically, the increase was acceptable because there really isn’t any place on 16th where you can invest more than twenty minutes of your time. Most of the time I get 14 minutes change.
Is it too late for city government intervention? After the City allowed the Duane Reade to be built where it is (unquestionably a deal done in hell), it decided that the street should be bordered by two memorials. Nothing says have a nice day at the beach like passing by the somber remembrance of the two tragic events. There was a ray of hope when the Ocean Grande was under construction especially when the hotels were closed. Many of us thought they would be condemned and torn down by the city. Not on your life. The city screwed us again by allowing the opening of the hotel in the middle on the east side to the underserved, rendering the street officially pathetic.
Beach 116th Street is but two blocks long. If one looks at how the city has improved the lower west side of Manhattan, one must be aware they could do the same for 116th. The city must buy the buildings on 116th, tear down the ones that are too shabby to rehabilitate and look for tenants who, at drastically reduced rents (like the stores attached to the train station) will present a plan to show they can make a go of the new store. If they become successful, the city can raise their rents much like the rent stabilization board does with annual votes. If not, they can close up shop or try to make it work knowing their rent will not increase until and unless they are successful.
The street needs a police presence and government intervention if any business there is to survive. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a politician to figure this out. Rocket scientists aside, if our politicians could get their heads out of their pocketbooks long enough to care, our neighborhood could get a breath of fresh air. If not, I foresee one of three things happening to the street: 1. try to dress it up by putting stars in the sidewalk with the names of people who tried to reinvent the street and failed, like a reverse Hollywood Walk of Fame; 2. in keeping with the memorial motif, connect the dots by turning the block into a cemetery from beach to bay; 3. engineers could dredge it, finally giving us that long awaited navigational connection of the beach with the bay.