Businesses benefit from ferry service, but seek ability to advertise

Chadd Kirkland, 35, a Rockaway resident, sits at The Wharf Bar and Grill with Cathy Matthews, a waitress and bartender, and Bob Leckie, right, a co-owner of the venue.
Chadd Kirkland, 35, a Rockaway resident, sits at The Wharf Bar and Grill with Cathy Matthews, a waitress and bartender, and Bob Leckie, right, a co-owner of the venue. Photo Credit: By Sarina Trangle

The city’s new ferry service has buoyed business in popular daytrip destinations such as Rockaway and Red Hook, owners of local shops and restaurants say.

Several businesses near landings in both neighborhoods have noticed increased foot traffic, and in some cases, a surge in sales, according to owners. Restaurants have grown used to sharing the schedule with diners, and in Rockaway, popular watering holes have welcomed those who don’t make the 150-person boat and must wait in lengthy lines.

Owners who did not see a bump this summer remain hopeful they’ll be able to capitalize on the seasonal rush next summer, given that Hornblower — the firm contracted to run the ferries — plans to make advertising opportunities available to local organizations.

Since the Rockaway route’s launch on May 1, Jeanne Jamin, co-owner of The Blue Bungalow, estimated that 30 to 40 percent more people walked into her Beach 116th Street storefront to peruse its handmade products on weekends. During the work week, foot traffic was up 10 to 15 percent

“They come in, they shop, it’s good,” Jamin said. “I’m anxious to see how it develops.”

Yarden Flatow’s mother runs a cafe called Cuisine by Claudette, and noticed that about one-third of recent online reviews of the restaurant mentioned taking the ferry to the peninsula.

“People are a little more willing to travel,” said Flatow, who serves as chairman of the Rockaway Business Alliance. “The trip from lower Manhattan has only been shortened by maybe 20, 30 minutes . . . but that ambience is so much greater.”

An average of 3,800 riders have taken the Rockaway ferry on weekends since launch day, according to the city’s Economic Development Corporation. Boat capacity and frequency has been unable to keep up with demand, prompting the city to adjust recent boat orders to get higher-capacity boats in service soon.

In Red Hook, stores along Van Brunt Street have welcomed the influx of day trippers since boats began docking in the Atlantic Basin June 1. An average of 4,200 riders board the South Brooklyn ferry route — which stops in Red Hook — on the weekends.

Brian Davis, the owner of the Wooden Sleepers vintage store, said the new ferry service sparked headlines about things to do in Red Hook, which brought shoppers to the area.

At Grindhaus on Van Brunt Street, a locally sourced restaurant, a spurt of activity cued the owner, Erin Norris, about the ferry’s arrival this summer.

“I have had customers that are coming from the city like, ‘Oh, yeah, we’re in TriBeCa, and we came — we took the ferry.’ And the next week they told their friends or neighbors who’ve also come, who also took the ferry,” said Norris, who has historically relied on word of mouth, but is now interested in advertising aimed at ferry riders. “I’m trying to get a little signage.”

Several fellow entrepreneurs said they looked into advertising at the ferry stop, but have had to postpone promotional efforts.

Pierre Alexandre, owner of the Dolce Brooklyn gelato shop, asked his city councilman about distributing information about Red Hook and its offerings at the terminal or on the app, but nothing came of it.

“It needs to be more packaged and promoted,” said Alexandre, who remains confident that things will pick up as people become familiar with the ferry stop.

Currently, New Stand has a contract to manage onboard advertising and concessions for the ferries, providing a revenue stream to Hornblower. Hornblower is working with the firm to create advertising opportunities for local organizations on the boats as well as on the city ferry’s website and social media channels.

“NYC Ferry is currently developing an advertising program that we expect to roll out before the end of the year so businesses of all shapes and sizes can tap into the ferry audience of almost 2 million strong and counting,” Hornblower spokesman Joshua Knoller said.

Not everybody is waiting. Bob Leckie, a member of the partnership that owns The Wharf Bar & Grill in Rockaway, placed a digital sign on the venue’s dock, visible from the ferry, informing riders that The Wharf is a five-minute walk from the ferry landing.

Leckie said the ferry has brought more customers. But he has lost others who no longer take their boats to The Wharf’s dock because, according to Leckie, the ferries travel fast enough to create waves that can bump their yachts against the dock.

He said he doesn’t need the ferries to boost his business. “I’ve been doing fine for 38 years,” Leckie said.