L Train Going Offline May Drag Brooklyn Businesses Offline Too

Small shops anticipate a drop in customers with the coming closure, but they're figuring out ways to keep humming

Caroline Valle Desy Clam Bar Owner

Caroline Valle, the owner of Desy’s Clam Bar on Grand Street, is worried. Her business life is about to get complicated. And it’s the L train’s fault.

The MTA has announced that the L train, which Desy relies on for her business operations, is going to go offline next April for 15 months.  Originally located in Little Italy for 75 years, Desy, has been at its Brooklyn location for the last 11 years, but the restaurant still delivers orders to Manhattan daily, using the L train. Little wonder that Valle is worried.

“How will I send my people into the city?” said Valle. She is also concerned about her seven employees, three of whom catch the L Train to get to work. “I really do not know how they are going to handle that,” Valle said. “I am pretty sure for them to take a different train would be a lot more difficult.”

Valle, who thinks that taking the L Train offline is going to create a mess, also frets about a potential loss of customers. To compensate and attract more of them, she says she will start offering a daily lunch special and host a happy hour. It’s the first time she’ll have done either one of those things.

“Customers are going to have to start using cabs or drive,” their own cars to get to her, she said in an interview last week at the restaurant. “Many people won’t bother to come.” Valle said one customer already apologized to her because she wasn’t sure whether she’d come back once the L train shut down.

The L Train’s temporary closure isn’t just going hurt Valle’s business.  Other local business owners along the train’s route say they too will likely suffer after the Transit Authority will close the Canarsie Tunnel in April at a cost of $477 million. Enterprises, like Valle’s, Gina Madera’s Brooklyn Cupcakes, and Esther Bell’s West Coffeehouse, stand to lose significant revenue when a quarter million New Yorkers who use the route daily will have to find other means of transportation, they say.

“Brooklyn Cupcake definitely gets a lot of customers who ride the L train and many of our employees do too,” said Gina Madera, the owner of the Williamsburg bakery known for its cupcakes and cookies. “I have mixed emotions with the L train shut down. I am sure my business will be affected because there will not be a lot of foot traffic.”

Madera’s cupcake company, established in 2010 during the recession in the early 2000s when jobs were few, delivers to the Barclay Arena on behalf of the Brooklyn Nets. It also caters large weddings. Madera uses Uber Eats or Caviar to make small order deliveries to local addresses. But when the L train shuts down, all this will be in jeopardy, said Madera.

She thinks she will survive, however, basically because of her particular location on Utica Avenue.“I do expect to lose some customers. Hopefully, it won’t hurt too much,” she added. “And hopefully, the two years will go by fast.”

To attract new customers and compensate for lost business, Madera said she is adding desserts to her line, including cakes and pudding. “We were solely a cupcake company. Now because of the L train shutting down, we decided to introduce more desserts to our line,” she said.  “I am actually doing a vegan line that we did not have.”

Esther Bell Owner Of The West

Another local entrepreneur Esther Bell, owner of  The West Coffeehouse and Bar, which serves coffee, breakfast, and sandwiches during day and drinks every night until 2 a.m., fears that her  business’s cash machine may dry up after the L train stops running.

“I think most people here use the L Train. So I am concerned about what is going to happen,” Bell said. But she isn’t too worried, “The MTA said that they are going to open the G subway stop located in front of my business. So, we are all for that because a lot of stores in the neighborhood will benefit from people coming out of the subway over here..” She’s still skeptical that the MTA will be efficient about the transition though. “The MTA never does anything on time,” she said.

According to AM New York.com, the MTA and the Department of Transportation expect to have 70 buses running between Brooklyn and Manhattan per hour to make up for the lost subway. The MTA plans to also boost service on the J-M-C and G line. There will also be three new temporary bus routes which will cross Williamsburg Bridge and there will be a two-way bike lane planned for 13th Street.

Despite the back up efforts by the MTA, Bell thinks the L train shut down may result in an exodus of residents from the area. “We have already seen a group of people leave the neighborhood because they can’t get to work fast enough using the L Train. So that has already started to happen,” Bell said. “As we get closer to next year we could lose a lot more people.” And that could mean a drop in her business too, she said.

Bell is looking at possible marketing strategies to make up for the losses and bring in new business. For one, she plans to use social media to engage with her customers. Now when customers come in, she asks them for permission to take a photo of them and put it on The West Coffeehouse’s Instagram page. Will it help?  She’s not sure. “At this point, it is really hard to tell if [the shutdown] will work with us or against us,” said Bell.

 

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