As NYC digs out, the hustle begins

In Marine Park, when you’re clearing snow, there are differences of dollars but not degree.

In Marine Park, when you’re clearing snow, there are differences of dollars but not degree.

To dig out a car, $20 or $40.

For a house’s sidewalk, perhaps $60. Driveways and corner properties cost more. For the package deal, you might be looking at $100, or $150. But neat work, you understand.

New York City began digging itself out from its second largest snowfall since Reconstruction yesterday. With 26.8 inches recorded in Central Park, that’s a lot of snow to move. The Sanitation Department was taking care of the heavy lifting — it put out a call for emergency snow laborers, starting at $13.50 an hour.

But you could do much better in Marine Park, a neighborhood on the south-eastern coastal edge of Brooklyn, where long driveways and home ownership means good business for amateur shovelers.

Depending on when the snow stops falling, city rules require property owners to clear their sidewalks either four hours after snow’s end, or by 11 a.m.

City officials urged New Yorkers not to overstrain themselves while shoveling their property, suggesting that elderly residents hire healthier help.

Snow storm tycoon

There are a number of regular businesses in place to do the work, contractors who advertise their part-time service and work for large organizations that need shoveling — clearing a church parking lot, for example, could run $2,500.

But there was plenty of work in the neighborhood for small-time contractors, such as Shane Scrolls, 16, and Mario Salome, 15, who were finishing up a $150 package job — car, driveway and sidewalk — off Fillmore Avenue.

“We dream for this,” Scrolls says, of large snow storms of this nature.

Business was good, though competition was stiff. “More adults,” says Scrolls, “more machines. Someone with an ATV.”

He says he’s noticed a lot of kids who aren’t from the neighborhood — Bergen Beach or Gerritsen Beach outsiders, for example, some 40 blocks away — who “come here and take our business.”

But he and Salome were excited for work on the morning of the first snow of the year.

They’d considered investing in an ATV and a plow before the storm, but noted that customers seem to pay less to kids with machines, given how much easier it is.

Mitch Kaufman, whose house they were clearing, came out to supervise their handiwork. Kaufman, 53, stuck two Poland Spring water bottles into a snow bank for the laborers, saying they were doing a good job.

“This is ridiculous,” he says, “the cold weather and snow. Who needs this.”

Kaufman said that Marine Park was a help-your-neighbor type of neighborhood, pointing to the clean sidewalk next door, home to an elderly couple, which the neighbor on the other side had cleared. The block owned a communal snow blower, which took care of the big stuff, but the rest was “a little too much for me,” Kaufman said, gesturing at his back.

The kids do the “finishing touches.” And they were easy to track down — “I found them on Facebook,” Kaufman says.

Icy cold reality of the free market

It should be noted here that your amExpress correspondent made his fair share of money shoveling Brooklyn snow, in a pre-Facebook era. There were fewer snow plows then, but the same Bergen Beach interlopers, the same hustle. Prices were a little lower.

One pair of would-be snow shovelers was still offering 20th century prices yesterday, however.

James, age 12, was getting a late start with his friend since their parents made them shovel at home. James had been in business in earlier years, though his friend was a rookie.

They were heading down 35th Street toward the park in search of work — “old people, people who can’t get out,” says James, people who hadn’t already cleared their way. In the other direction they’d seen some teenagers plying their trade, “not kids like us.”

“I just charge $20, other times five, or ten,” James says, before continuing down the block. Your amExpress correspondent considered intervening but reluctantly sent them on their way, and let the free market run its course.

This is amExpress, the conversation starter for New Yorkers.

Mark Chiusano