Sheepshead Bay Road merchants will pay for more customers

Room for improvement: Capella Salon owner Gail Dagostino wants a business improvement district on Sheepshead Bay Road to spruce up the struggling shopping strip.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

Sheepshead Bay Road’s struggling merchants want to form a business improvement district to draw more shoppers and compete with other commercial corridors — but critics blasted the idea as simply a ploy to squeeze more dough out of them for city services they already pay for.

“This is the only strip without Christmas lights,” said Gail Dagostino, the owner of Capella Salon, who wants her fellow merchants to form a merchant group as soon as possible. “It’s embarrassing.”

Yet some neighbors weren’t as willing to part with their hard-earned cash.

“People aren’t making money,” said Mike Starace, owner of Wheeler’s Restaurant, off Voorhies Avenue.

“They’re not looking for another expense,” he said.

But Bay Improvement Group President Steve Barrison said a Sheepshead Bay Road business improvement district was long overdue.

“It could be successful if you carve out the right district,” said the civic activist who wants to revive a proposal he rolled out in 2006 that targeted a section between Avenue Z and Emmons Avenue.

Area merchants didn’t follow through with Barrison’s plan, which fell apart before it could get off the ground.

Under the plan, residential and commercial landlords would pay the city an additional fee based on the size or value of their properties. That money would be used to fund improvements along the strip, including extra security, graffiti removal, and decorative street banners. The majority of revenue would come from commercial property owners who could pass the buck onto their tenants, resulting in higher rents.

The alliances are a saving grace in more ways than one, according to some merchant groups.

“People don’t want to see graffiti and garbage in the streets,” said Yelena Makhnin, executive director of the 25-year-old Brighton Beach Business Improvement District, which is bankrolled by more than 300 property owners who pay a combined total of $220,000 a year.

“Our business improvement district has been very helpful in promoting Brighton Beach Avenue,” said Makhnin, adding that landlords on Little Odessa’s main shopping strip pay an average annual tax of $300 to $1,500 to become a member.

Sheepshead Bay Road wasn’t always out of the loop.

The now-defunct Sheepshead Bay Chamber of Commerce collected money from business owners to pay for holiday lighting along Sheepshead Bay Road before folding in the 1980s.

Area banks picked up the tab for a while, but the tradition petered out a decade ago.

A spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Small Business Services, which oversees the quasi-public business improvement districts, said the agency would have to study Sheepshead Bay Road’s business makeup and vacancy rates before determining whether the street qualifies for one — a day welcomed by Metina Turan, manager of Anatolian Gyro.

Turan said he had no problem coughing up a few bucks to score more shoppers and services.

“You gotta give something to get something,” he said.

The city’s first business improvement district was formed on Fulton Street in Downtown in 1976.

Brooklyn has 23 business improvement districts, including a new Atlantic Avenue group stretching from Fourth Avenue to Columbia Street the city approved last October.

Reach reporter Daniel Bush at dbush@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-8310. Follow him at twitter.com/dan_bush.

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