Brooklyn Heights

Shops say closing Clark Street Station for 8 months could kill their businesses

February 19, 2020 Mary Frost
Fernando Costano, a long-time employee at Brooklyn Heights Shoe Master in the Clark Street Station arcade, says closing the station for eight months could put the shop out of business. Photo: Mary Frost, Brooklyn Eagle
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Shopkeepers worry that closing Clark Street subway station in Brooklyn Heights for eight months will put them out of business.

The MTA announced this week that 2 and 3 trains will bypass the station for eight months so it can replace all three failing elevators at the same time.

There have been numerous elevator breakdowns over the past years. In October 2018, one incident required passengers to escape the elevator car through an opening in the ceiling. The station is the deepest one in the system, and a 10-story flight of stairs is used only in emergencies.

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“This plan reduces the length of construction time at Clark Street to just eight months, and eliminates uncertainty for our customers. We strongly feel our approach minimizes the impact that this disruption will cause,” New York City Transit President Andy Byford said in a statement.

“That’s very bad; we may be put out of business,” Salahuddin Aziz, owner of a news stand that has been operating at the station for 30 years, told the Brooklyn Eagle. “How are we going to pay the rent?” Most of Aziz’s business comes from foot traffic from people using the subways, he said.

Salahuddin Aziz, owner of the newsstand at Clark Street Station. Photo: Mary Frost, Brooklyn Eagle
Salahuddin Aziz, owner of the newsstand at Clark Street Station. Photo: Mary Frost/Brooklyn Eagle

“Nobody from the Metropolitan Transit Authority came” to discuss the closure with him, he added.

“This will put us out of business; we depend on the customers,” Fernando Costano, a long-time employee at Brooklyn Heights Shoe Master, said. Costano’s boss told him that when the station closed for four months in the 1990s, “No one made money.”

Costano said the businesses pay rent to the Saint George, operated by Realty Crown Management Corp., not the MTA. The Saint George did not respond to the Eagle’s  request for comment by the time of publication.

An employee at the Cutting Den barber shop, which has been in operation for 93 years, said closing the station was going to hit the business hard. She remembered when the station closed in the late 1990s, and it was touch-and-go. “This is a busy station. People going to Wall Street, busy at lunch time.”

Roughly 1.6 million commutes began at the station in 2017, according to NYC Transit figures.

MTA said it would take steps to minimize the impact on the businesses. It is considering putting business signs on the barricades around the work zones, and installing “wayfinding signage” so that pedestrians know that businesses on the block are open.

The Brooklyn Heights Association said it was concerned about the survival of the businesses, and urged neighbors to continue to patronize the shops during the closure.

“We are going to do everything possible to support the local businesses in and around the station which are an important part of our community,” Lara Birnback, executive director of BHA, told the Eagle.

“Other than an offer to place some signage indicating that customers can still access the businesses, the MTA hasn’t been very specific about how they will help these merchants get by during a long period of construction,” she said.

Birnback said BHA has asked the MTA to include them in their upcoming outreach meetings with the businesses “so we can understand their needs and work to assist them. I want to emphasize, however, that as a community it will be very important to support these businesses with our continued patronage even if it means walking a few blocks out of the way.”

MTA has ruled out a shuttle bus due to the neighborhood’s narrow streets, but says it will enhance local existing bus service. The B25 is the closest running bus route.

BHA says it is advocating for increased frequency of service on the B25 line, especially during the evening and overnight hours.

MTA: It’s the quicker, cheaper option

Aziz said that if anyone from MTA had asked him, he would have told them to fix just one elevator at a time, and do all the installation on weekends.

That was one of the three options presented to the community by MTA head Andy Byford in September when he met with the community about the closure. But working on just one elevator at a time would affect service for two years, Byford said.

A third option was to work on one elevator at a time over a 22-month period, but only run the two operating elevators during peak times on weekdays.

Two elevators are needed to safely maintain train service to the station because it lacks stairway access, MTA said in ruling these option out. “New York City Transit would have had to suddenly and unpredictably suspend train service whenever one of the two remaining elevators was taken out of service.”

The elevators are so old and have broken down so many times they ought to be in the Transit Museum, Byford said in September.

Survey results depended on who heard Byford speak

Shutting down service for eight months to replace all the elevators at once would be the least expensive option with the shortest duration, Byford said at the September town Hall.

The majority of those who heard him speak in person there (79 percent) favored the eight-month, full-closure approach.

Those who didn’t hear Byford speak, however, went the other way in a survey put together by elected officials.

Overall, 62 percent of the 687 people who completed the survey said they wanted MTA to replace one elevator at a time. Only 38 percent wanted the MTA to close the whole station for eight months in order to replace all three elevators at once.

While his own preference was to “get in, get it done and get out,” Byford told those attending the September meeting that the agency would take survey results into consideration.

Fix the other stations first

BHA is also urging the MTA to use the time before the closure of the Clark Street Station to ensure neighboring subway stations are fully operational. “For example, the escalators at High Street cannot be in disrepair as they were last year for a number of months,” BHA said.

Because of the depth of the station and its narrow island platform, the station can’t be made fully accessible, Byford said in September. However, he did say that NYCT would consider a request to transform one of the stairways from the elevator level to the platform into an escalator.

The contract for the project will be awarded later this year and construction will begin next year. The start and end dates for the elevator replacement work will be announced after the contract is awarded. The contractor will require about 100 feet by 10 feet of staging area on Henry Street, equivalent to about five parking spaces.

Customers are advised to use nearby stations, including the High Street A and C station on Cadman Plaza West, or the Borough Hall-Court Street 2, 3, 4, 5, R subway complex, located on Montague Street between Clinton and Court Streets.

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