Reversa-L of fortune: North Bklyn business owners optimistic after change in line’s repair plans

Reversa-L of fortune: North Bklyn business owners optimistic after change in line’s repair plans
Photo by Julianne Cuba

They’re back in business!

Mom-and-pop shop owners in North Brooklyn who did not flee in the face of the long-promised L-train closure sighed a breath of relief after Gov. Cuomo abruptly called off the 15-month shutdown last week.

“It’s already kind of a struggle to have a small business, we were extremely worried,” Lisa Castagna, a co-owner of Decatur Street’s Bridge and Tunnel Brewery — which is blocks from the subway’s Halsey Street station in Bushwick — told journalist Brian Lehrer on the Jan. 4 episode of his eponymous radio show. “If this is true, it’s a huge relief, because we cannot stop doing business.”

City and state transportation officials in early 2016 started prepping straphangers for the closure of the line’s East River–spanning Canarsie Tube, which sustained severe damage in superstorm Sandy, and months later said they would entirely shutter the tunnel for more than a year in order to repair it.

That decision kicked off a mass exodus from neighborhoods including Bushwick and Williamsburg to other parts of the borough and city, striking fear into many mom-and-pop entrepreneurs, who worried a dramatic loss in foot traffic could spell the end of their operations.

Still, many brave business owners stayed put, and now some of them — and their employees — are rejoicing, because the job that once called for 15 moths of L will instead likely only require nighttime and weekend work over what officials say will be a 20-month period.

“I think it was awesome news, and a great relief for every single business that is close to the train,” said Levi Gallard, an employee at popular Williamsburg pie spot Joe’s Pizza on Bedford Avenue, who two years ago personally chose to pick up and move from that neighborhood to Queens in advance of the closure, along with many of his neighbors, he said.

But other entrepreneurs said they’re waiting to celebrate until work actually begins — especially after Cuomo backtracked on a previous statement that board members of the state-run Metropolitan Transportation Authority wouldn’t have to approve his last-minute plan, and because President Trump — one of the governor’s biggest political foes — may have to sign off on the scheme since the Feds are paying for part of the repairs.

“I think it’s too early to tell, because you don’t really know the parameters of this partial shutdown,” said Jonas Kyle, the owner of Spoonbill and Sugartown Booksellers, which hawks titles at locations on Bedford and Montrose avenues, and has been in Williamsburg for 20 years. “I think there are going to be a lot of twists and turns to this story.”

Indeed, Cuomo did not provide many specifics in making his recent announcement, including the exact parameters of the proposed night and weekend work — which during those times could cause up to 20-minute delays on the L line, hurting neighborhoods with booming nightlife industries along it — and whether other previously announced alternative transportation options, such as dedicated ferries, buses, and bike lanes, will move forward following the change in plans, according to the head of the North Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.

“We still don’t know all the details. What is the night-and-weekend plan? Nights and weekends are peak times in North Brooklyn,” said Paul Samulski. “It’s a good thing, but there’s also some bad included with it. The fight isn’t done yet.”

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@schnepsmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.