Brooklyn Heights

Rumors of prolonged Clark Street subway station closure have Brooklyn Heights businesses on edge

NYC Transit mum so far

April 29, 2019 Mary Frost
Shops line the arcade of the Clark Street subway station. Shopkeepers say they have heard nothing from NYC Transit about the plans to close the station for a prolonged period, and worry they could go out of business without commuter traffic. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

Rumors are all that local business owners have to go on about a potential long-term closure of the Clark Street subway station in Brooklyn Heights.

The station, served by the 2 and 3 train, is rumored to be on the list for closure to make replace the decrepit elevators that descend 10 stories underground. The agency hasn’t confirmed a plan, but if the information leaked by NYC Transit employees to business owners within the station are true, some of the shops might have to fold. Many of them have operated out of the arcade at the St. George Tower at the corner of Henry and Clark streets for decades.

“They didn’t tell us anything,” said Fernando Castano, who has worked for a shoe repair shop in the arcade, Brooklyn Heights Shoe Master, for more than 18 years. His boss, sitting nearby, didn’t want his name in the paper but said he agreed with Castano.

While New York City Transit employees have been speculating out loud about the MTA’s plans for a year-long shutdown to repair the station’s three ailing elevators, the agency is not sharing this information with the businesses that depend on the station’s subway commuters to make a living. Roughly 1.6 million commutes began at the station in 2017, according to NYC Transit figures.

Castano said he was worried. “We won’t make the rent” without foot traffic, he said.

Fernando Castano, who has worked at the Clark Street subway station’s shoe repair shop, Brooklyn Heights Shoe Master, for more than 18 years, said the station’s rumored year-long closure could put the shop out of business. Eagle photo by Mary Frost
Fernando Castano, who has worked at the Clark Street subway station’s shoe repair shop, Brooklyn Heights Shoe Master, for more than 18 years, said the station’s rumored year-long closure could put the shop out of business. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

Also in the arcade are a hair salon (The Cutting Den, in operation for more than 90 years), plus a news stand, Cuban coffee shop, market and sushi restaurant. The businesses pay rent to St. George Associates.

None of them have heard anything official about the plan. According to the rampant rumors, however, the station could shut down completely in January.

“No one has said anything about it,” said Andrew Sabba, owner and operator of Cafécito To Go.

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Sabba, who grew up in Brooklyn Heights, spent almost 15 years in Miami and “wanted to bring that flavor of Cuban style coffee and pastries to Brooklyn Heights,” he said. “It’s a good thing in a subway arcade for grab and go — coffee, pastries on the way to work. People are loving it. Business has been good. People are just starting to discover us.”

The Cafécito To Go Cuban coffee shop just opened a few months ago. Eagle photo by Mary Frost
The Cafécito To Go Cuban coffee shop just opened a few months ago. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

Sabba says 80 percent of his business comes from commuters. “Without the train it’s pretty much done. I just started this business over a month ago. They gave me no indication.”

Sabba said that luckily, his lease is up in January. “So I’ll see if I move locations, or …”

He thinks that if the MTA and the city don’t compensate the businesses for the lack of customers, then St. George Associates should.

“There’s no real point in staying open if the subway’s not open,” he said.

After numerous breakdowns and several incidents with the elevators, including one last October that required passengers to escape the elevator car through an opening in the ceiling, Borough President Eric Adams urged NYC Transit to commence repairs as soon as possible.

But even Borough Hall has had trouble getting details of the plan from the agency.

“For whatever reason, proactive transparency continues to be a challenge for the MTA,” Adams said in a statement on Monday. “Repairs to the unreliable elevators at the Clark Street subway station are a health and safety imperative that cannot be deferred any longer, and commuters and small businesses need to know how to plan for the construction to come as early as possible. Even publicizing a timeline to finalizing a construction timeline would be appreciated at this point. I appreciate that New York City Transit is taking steps forward on this project, but those steps should be swifter and more visible.”

Brooklyn Heights resident Marty Feuerman told the Brooklyn Eagle that he heard the rumor from a station clerk, who told him that “the plan is to shut down the station 24/7 from around January 2020 to January 2021. He said they need to shut down, because they will be repairing all three elevators at the same time.” Feuerman said a second clerk also told him about the closure.

A ten-story flight of stairs at Clarke Street station is used only in emergencies.

Feuerman said the closure wouldn’t inconvenience him so much, “But I do feel bad about the businesses by the arcade. Also, elderly people may find the walk from Borough Hall a bit daunting.”

Feuerman added, “It would be great if the work (and the shut-down) could be done only at nights when fewer people and businesses are affected, since the businesses are mostly closed anyway at that time.”

NYC Transit told the Eagle that the agency would be issuing a statement within a couple of weeks on the project.

According to rumor, NYC Transit will be awarding a contract for the elevator repairs in July.

The impacts could be felt by nearby stations. Though 1.6 million commutes originated at Clark Street station, ridership was down considerably in 2017 due to weekend closures for repairs caused by Superstorm Sandy. During that same period, A-train ridership at nearby High Street station went up. The next closest subway station, the large Court Street/Borough Hall station, logged 10.6 million journeys during the same time period, down slightly, as was subway ridership in general that year.

Eagle photo by Mary Frost
Eagle photo by Mary Frost

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