A summer street celebration that closes Bedford Avenue to traffic is no party for some Williamsburg business owners.
Several local merchants are railing against the second annual “Williamsburg Walks” event, saying that barring cars from a seven-block stretch of the avenue between Metropolitan Avenue and North Ninth Street on every Saturday in June and July cuts into their earnings.
“Last year was devastating to my business,” said Alexis Schoenberg, the owner of the year-old Brooklyn Fox Lingerie on North Fifth Street near the corner of Bedford Avenue.
“It was misguided — it did not help anyone,” the innerwear retailer said.
Schoenberg told The Brooklyn Paper that her shop, which is in the Mini Mall building, typically does good business on Saturdays – even in the summer when customers come in droves for “specialty items” like strapless bras.
But on the days when the street celebration stopped cars from driving down Bedford Avenue last year, business at skivvy shop was lethargic and the street revelers were more interested in passing time than pantyhose.
“The psyche was, ‘Let’s hang out and play volleyball,’” she said. “It really wasn’t a retail or consumer-related day.”
Other business owners who claim they lost money during the festival decried “Williamsburg Walks” for not sufficiently promoting the celebration.
“Essentially, it was a ghost land,” said Henrik Toncic, one of the owners of Vinnie’s Pizzeria near the corner of North Ninth Street.
“The community was not aware it was going to happen,” said Toncic, who noted that much of his weekend business comes from non-Williamsburg residents who drive into the neighborhood.
The pizza peddler — who claims he donated $500 to the event last year — said that he wouldn’t stand in the way of this year’s “Williamsburg Walks,” but he’s not banking on making much dough.
“I’d like to see it happen and I’d like to see it improve, but if I was talking just as someone who looks at numbers, I’d say I didn’t want it to happen anymore,” Toncic said.
Even some Bedford Avenue residents scorned the street fair, including a Brooklyn Paper commenter who left this screed on last week’s story about the return of “Williamsburg Walks.”
“I live right on Bedford. Hate hate hate hate hate this idea,” wrote the poster, who gave his name as Lee. “This idea is so much about bringing $$ to the businesses that line the street, and very little about the people (like me) who live on the street. I’m really tired of people treating Bedford Avenue like a free-for-all. At the very least, they could take turns and close off other streets once in a while.
But not everyone on Bedford Avenue opposes the project.
When The Brooklyn Paper reported on the return of the festivities last week, shop owners overwhelmingly said that they supported the project.
And event organizer Michael Freedman Schnapp of the group Neighbors Allied for Good Growth — which was not one of the main planners behind last year’s event — told The Brooklyn Paper that “Williamsburg Walks” is supposed to benefit the entire neighborhood, including the merchants.
“The question is not whether or not to shut down the event because some businesses might be complaining. The question is what can we do to help those businesses?” said Freedman Schnapp, who noted that his group is open to discussing ways to improve the event with any Williamsburg businesses.
Unlike last year’s “Williamsburg Walks,” which were mostly devoid of programming, the organizers say they will try to entice passersby to stay at the street festival with events including children’s exercise lessons and bicycle safety tutorials.
Organizers will discuss “Williamsburg Walks” at the Swingin’ 60s Senior Center [211 Ainslie St. at Manhattan Avenue in Williamsburg, (718) 384-2248] on April 27 at 7 pm.
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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