Across the street from the brand-new 86th Street subway stop on Second Avenue sits Schaller and Weber, a family-owned sausage and meat shop that has stood on this corner since 1937. While the station was under construction, the 80 year-old store suffered, says its general manager Gary Guarinello.
“We had a 2-story fence in front of the store,” said Guarinello. “You couldn’t even see the shop from the street. Customers would just avoid the shop and the avenue because it was such an inconvenience to come to.”
But since the Second Avenue subway line opened in early January, after 10 years of construction, business owners and managers, like Guarinello, along Second Avenue are excited and optimistic about the new business opportunities that the new subway line is bringing and will continue to bring to the Upper East Side.
Things are already looking up, with foot traffic on the rise, according to Barry Schneider, who serves as co-chair of the Second Avenue Subway Task Force, a group formed to help address the concerns of Upper East residents about the construction of the subway.
“Traffic along Second Avenue was down 20-40 percent because of the construction,” said Schneider. “But now with waves of people emerging from the stations everyday and dispersing across the avenue, it’s very encouraging from a business perspective.”
According to Guarinello, business at Schaller & Weber is also coming back now that customers can actually see the shop.
“Just having an open sidewalk now is making a big difference. And because of that, we’re seeing a consistent basis of business all day now,” said Guarinello, who said that his shop primarily serves local residents in the neighborhood.
Even while the business wasn’t doing well, Guarinello said he and his employees remained optimistic about the benefits that the shop would reap from the arrival of the Q train. “We knew all along it was going to be positive,” Guarinello said. “We think this will bring in more destination eaters who will seek us out from other parts of the city since it’s going to be a lot easier to get here now.”
Schaller & Weber is not the only shop on Second Avenue that is seeing business improve since the subway construction concluded and the Q train began making trips to the Upper East Side on New Years Day.
Edgar Lopez, general manager of Two Boots Pizza on the corner of 84th Street and Second Avenue, says that foot traffic at the local pizza shop is up 20 percent since the Second Avenue Subway arrived. According to Lopez, construction of the 86th Street station caused the pizza shop to lose 35 percent of its business.
“It was too loud and noisy,” said Lopez, who refers to the shop as an Upper East Side speciality. “No one was going to come in.”
While acknowledging that two months is a small sample size, Lopez is excited about what is to come for Two Boots. “I’m really encouraged so far with the growth opportunities that we have now,” Lopez said. “New faces and new people in the neighborhood can only help us out.”
Manhattan Community Board 8, which represents the Upper East Side, worked throughout the construction to address the concerns of local businesses along Second Avenue who were impacted by the construction of the subway.
“Many of the shops and stores along Second Avenue went out of business when the construction was going on,” said Jim Clynes, who serves as the chair of Community Board 8. “We lost about 50 percent of businesses along Second Avenue because of the construction.”
The community board formed the Second Avenue Subway Task Force to help. “These businesses along Second Avenue were dramatically impacted,” said Schneider. “People couldn’t get to these shops.”
According to Schneider, organizations such as the Second Avenue Business Administration were on the front lines, promoting business along Second Avenue during the construction. The promotion consisted of a series of signs and posters put up on fencing and in the subway stations nearby, encouraging residents to patronize the shops on Second Avenue.
While signs of improved business along Second Avenue are now evident, many still have concerns that the arrival of the Q train to the Upper East Side could have a negative impact on business. Community board chair Clynes believes local businesses could face new competition from new businesses arriving on the Upper East Side because of the new subway.
According to Clynes, after the Second Avenue Subway began running last month, more street vendors, for example, have started setting up shop outside the brand-new subway stations and other businesses. Clynes is worried that this could lead to a price war along the avenue.
“If the rider who comes off the subway sees a cup of coffee for $1 at a street vendor first, what’s going to happen to these shops who have stuck around through the construction for business to return,” asked Clynes. “It could really hurt them.”
That’s why Clynes and other members of Community Board 8 are going to fight at the city level for tougher rules and regulations on where street vendors can set up shop in the neighborhood.
“When I walk out of the 72nd street station, I sometimes feel like I’m at the San Gennaro Festival with all the lights coming from the street vendor trucks,” said Clynes, citing the annual festival held downtown in Little Italy. “With every good intention come unintended consequences.”