The Upper East Side is slowly waking up after the long nightmare of Second Avenue subway construction.
After nearly seven years, the streets on the avenue between the upper 60s and upper 90s are finally devoid of the dust, noise and construction equipment that made the area unappealing for shoppers. Business owners who powered on during those lean years said they haven’t seen an immediate surge in interest in their shops or restaurants, but they remain hopeful that their patience is going to pay off in the long run.
“We are now just starting to decompress from the reality that the subway is done,” said Dave Goodside, the owner of Café Beach, which has been operating at 70th Street and Second Avenue since 1968.
Some entrepreneurs say they see an opportunity to take their businesses to a new level, thanks to the area’s gleaming new transit amenity.
During the construction period, the MTA and elected officials worked with residents and business owners to make sure they would lose as little revenue as possible. In addition to creating a community committee, newsletters and an information center between East 84th and 85th streets, the MTA set up signage around the construction zones and on top of sidewalk sheds that let New Yorkers know their favorite shops were still open.
“I think the MTA really helped us out with that,” said James G. Clynes, chairman of Manhattan Community Board 8, which oversees the area. “A lot of businesses benefitted from that extra signage.”
Despite the assistance, store owners said they still had to face major hurdles. Goodside had to reduce his staff hours, scale back his menu and remove outdoor tables during the construction.
“We had to find ways to operate and keep that reduction as much as we can,” he said.
Dr. Michael Horodniceanu, the MTA’s outgoing chief of capital construction, admitted that the agency didn’t excel at managing pedestrian street flow along Second Avenue among all the elements of subway construction.
“We had to maintain, while we did all of these things, vehicular and particularly pedestrian traffic. We were very good — or better — at doing vehicular traffic. Not as good at doing pedestrian,” said Horodniceanu during a lecture last week at the New York Law School.
Annie Goodman, the owner of Annie and Company Needlepoint, who moved her location to Second Avenue and East 92nd Street three years ago, had a different problem because the construction zone made it harder for her customers find the store behind all of the large equipment on the street.
“A lot of customers also told me they had trouble getting a parking spot,” she said. “They had to go a few blocks and then walk back here.”
With the 96th Street station opened in January, however, her customers and her staff had a faster trip to her store and she’s had a few new shoppers check out her yarn and crafts wares.
Goodside said he’s already started to augment up his cafe to welcome the new visitors off the Q train. He said he is planning on bringing a piano, adding extra menu items and returning the outdoor tables to the sidewalk.
“People are walking back in the neighborhood, they are strolling along Second Avenue and enjoying the sights,” he said.
Lisa Dragonetti, the manager of Lisa’s on Second Avenue, a card store at East 91st Street, wasn’t confident that the benefits will come in fast enough to mitigate the damage the construction did. Businesses in the northern section of the line don’t have the same draw as the ones in the 80s and 70s, she said.
“It’s going to take more time for customers to walk up here in larger numbers,” she said. “We just need more businesses open here.”
Dragonetti, who moved into her location three years ago from Third Avenue, noted that new developments have already begun construction along Second Avenue, and she and her neighbors might have to go through the same problems again.
Clynes said he was confident that the customer traffic will pick up as the weather gets warmer and the word of mouth of the new stations spreads among New Yorkers. He added that he hopes the MTA learned from the phase one construction and builds on its community partnerships as it gets ready for its next big projects like the L train shutdown and the uptown extension of the Second Avenue subway, if it ever gets built.
And it appears that the agency is listening.
“In the future we should do more,” Horodniceanu said.