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Hot under the collar!

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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.

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ms nomer from wburg says:
The lingerie shop owner neglects to mention that she had just opened her business last year. So I don't know how she knows that she "typically" does well on Saturdays in summer -- last summer was her first.

Williamsburg Walks happened over 4 Saturdays. The first Saturday was a heat wave. No one out. The last Saturday featured a near-monsoon. Again, no one out. The two other Saturdays showed a notable increase in people, though again so many people go away in July, there were in fact fewer Williamsburgers overall. And let's not forget the recession -- the US didn't fess up till December/January but we were in a recession last summer and I'm sure discretionary spending, like on pretty underthings, went way down.

This year I understand there will be programming, block by block. Businesses should look for creative ways to advertise and exploit the events, which are spread over more Saturdays so we can look to pre-summer vacation crowds and a somewhat relieved and more positive consumer attitude as well. There is no reason why businesses can't do well here, if they apply a little thought and creativity to exploiting the events.
April 16, 2009, 11:56 am
Matt from Brooklyn says:
If this event proposes to help the economy and create a fun environment in W'berg, they need to center around local business, bring in shoppers who can then participate in fun side events and classes. Instead, this event is still a free for all.

This Freedman Schnapp guy says its not about shutting down the event and asks "what can we do to help those businesses?" You'd think he's got a proactive approach to helping local businesses enliven the economy. I don't think he does. The commenter above, who is clearly intimately involved with the event, says that businesses should "apply a little thought and creativity to exploiting the events". Oh, and money- so businesses will have to fork out sums to do damage control in this weird weekend environment, with no help from the organizers. It looks as if once again, this event will simply shut down Bedford Ave, set up volleyball nets, children's exercise lessons and bicycle safety classes.

This pizza owner and lingerie owner aren't out of line in suggesting that they lose money on these weekends! And there are plenty of other businesses that feel the same way. They watched helplessly as streets were blocked, outside vendors set up shop, and business on Bedford slowed.

I've seen other fairs in Manhattan, that are solely about the local businesses, that certainly do attract money to their neighborhoods. They were shopping events that attracted shoppers. No one know what this event is actually about, and no one has an answer. There seems no purpose so far to this event, that provides neither an economic boost or a cultural benefit.
April 16, 2009, 12:30 pm
Ralph from Williamsburg says:
Bedford Avenue was closed, but all of the cross streets remained open to cars (including the side street where the lingerie shop is). I don't know about the pizza place, but it seems to me one problem facing the lingerie shop is that she is not ON Bedford, and most of the activity is focused there. It would be good to get people attending Williamsburg Walks to move off the avenue and explore the side streets.

When the weather is not atrocious, WW should bring more people to the street, which should benefit the pizza store owner too.
April 16, 2009, 12:39 pm
Jacob from Billyburg says:
I find it amazing that you go 3/4 through this article, which slams Williamsburg Walks, before you mention that "shop owners overwhelmingly said that they supported the project." Wow.

NYC journalism in 3 easy steps. Step 1: find something with overwhelming public support. Step 2: Find the one or two people that hate it. Step 3: Write an article that makes it seem like the tiny minority is really an overwhelming majority.

Nice.
April 16, 2009, 12:52 pm
ms nomer from wburg says:
A great result from last year was that neighbors got to meet each other, and businesses got to meet and compare notes. And everyone started a dialogue about the future of the community. A lot of good stuff is coming from that experience longer term. Hopefully that will manifest this year, as last year's first-ever experiment is improved on this year. Bottom line is, if it doesn't work for the entire community, no one will support it in the future. The entire community = businesses and residents.
April 16, 2009, 1:06 pm
Ed from Crown Heights says:
Anytime a small business (or a newspaper editor) opposes any changes to street operations, for any reason, they can always get a quote in a paper about how it is hurting business with no proof, just hearsay. I read the same thing about how the new separated bike lane on 8th Avenue in Manhattan is "hurting business" in Chelsea Now: http://chelseanow.com/CN_124/8th.html - “Anybody that has a business on the west side of the block, I guarantee they’re going to lose at minimum 30, maybe 50 percent of their business.” Completely unsubstantiated comment. Claims like this with no factual basis are not worthy of printing if a newspaper wants to maintain any shred of integrity - probably why Chelsea Now published no less than three letters to the editor the following week about how that article is misleading.

“'Essentially, it was a ghost land,' said Henrik Toncic, one of the owners of Vinnie’s Pizzeria near the corner of North Ninth Street." And yet, actual pedestrian counts, not hearsay, show that FOOT TRAFFIC WAS 96% HIGHER THAN THE AVERAGE SATURDAY (http://www.streetsblog.org/2008/07/28/williamsburg-walks-doubles-foot-traffic-on-bedford-avenue/).

Get the facts right. This article should be about why the heck guys who own a pizza shop are so confused that they think Bedford Ave is a ghost town when there are actually double the number of people walking around
April 16, 2009, 2:26 pm
Lex from Park Slope says:
"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."

Oh yeah, that'll pack them in.
April 16, 2009, 5:04 pm
mfs from Brooklyn says:
Matt- As that "freedman-schnapp guy", I can attest to the fact that we have had one meeting in March that every business on that stretch of Bedford was invited to and we have solicited advice about how to make this work for businesses at every turn. If you have ideas on how to make this work, you are welcome to come work with us. We are having a meeting at 211 Ainslie Street, Monday April 27th at 7pm.
April 16, 2009, 11:13 pm
N.9&Bedford from Northside Wburg says:
Maybe if they kept the clots of skateboarders and the irresponsible but entitiled bike riders from taking over the supposed to be for the pedestrians Bedford Ave, the nabe might feel better about the Wburg Walks. Its impossible to walk on or across Bedford when the "freedom for us, but not for you" crew take over.
April 16, 2009, 11:45 pm
Goyo from Los Sures says:
Who cares ?
April 17, 2009, 11:34 pm
Charles from Park Slope says:
My hearsay knowledge from Park Slope's annual 7th heaven street fair on 7th avenue (June) is it hurts local businesses on that particular day. Notwithstanding, I believe street fairs are still a good idea. However, maybe Williamsburg should have one per summer instead of every Saturday for two months. Sounds like the organizers are not balancing all the interests for a reasonable compromise.
April 18, 2009, 12:18 am
Tony from Carroll Gardens says:
Alexis is hot, so keep the roads running!
April 20, 2009, 1:11 am
Joe from Williamsburg says:
Last year was all about playing ping pong in the middle of the street. I don't see it getting better. How is this supposed to help businesses? The tired and thirsty ping-pongers will be more likely to buy drinks from the local delis? Anyone who lives near Bedford Ave knows that foot traffic is insane on weekends without this event. Also, the majority of businesses on Bedford are restaurants, bars, delis and cafes. If they are doing badly, it's because there are too many of them. I find it hard to believe the event will get people onto the side streets and into stores that are basically randomly dispersed in the more residential areas of the neighborhood. This event is mostly supported by the self-serving kinds of people who were drunk and disorderly on election night. Of course business owners say they support this moronic effort -- they know they can't say anything "anti-community group" if they want a shot at keeping customers. They give a bit of cash and have nothing to lose. The question is whether they have anything to gain. "Helping businesses" is just a goal announced to get business to pay out cash donations and as a retort to people who question the logic of this all. It's a hollow goal. Those who lose out are the ones who live near Bedford and need to spend all day listening to the same racket they hear at night when the bars heat up. Are there any community groups representing these people?
April 20, 2009, 10:10 am
Joe from Williamsburg says:
Also, summer is the busiest time for Bedford Avenue, if they wanted to help businesses, why wouldn't they schedule this kind of event in a different season of the year, when restaurants and other businesses might be hurting more?
April 20, 2009, 10:13 am
Othy from Williamsburg says:
Is it really all about the money? You sell expensive panties. stfu.
April 20, 2009, 12:57 pm
Dude from Williamsburg says:
Two months of this? Every weekend? Seriously?

And Othy, yes, it is all about the money. Don't be ridiculous.
April 21, 2009, 12:01 am
Wow from Williamsburg says:
Two months of this? Every weekend? Seriously?

And Othy, yes, it is all about the money. Don't be ridiculous.
April 21, 2009, 12:01 am
bk from williamsburg says:
Im pretty sure that Neighbors Allied for Good Growth was indeed one of the major planners and participants last year. Typo?
April 23, 2009, 8:30 pm
bk from williamsburg says:
Also, "skivvy shop?" Really?
April 23, 2009, 8:31 pm
Bedford Resident from Williamsburg says:
One of the main problems with this idea is that there is NO ONE to police these events to say what IS or what IS NOT okay.

Last year, Spike Hill tried to capitalize on the street closing by having live bands on the sidewalk. There was NO ONE to tell them that the bands were playing way too loud. After several hours of torture, we had to walk over and do it ourselves. And dig it, I'm a musician, so it's not like I'm against music. (Thankfully, the manager there was really nice and she complied with our request.)

I don't understand why this thing has to be a multiple weekend affair. I can put up with just about anything for one weekend for several hours, but the time frame of 11 to 8 (or 9??) is just ridiculous. I really don't think it should be something that's inflicted on a person for 8 hours every f-ing weekend in June and July. Bedford is already Bedlam. We don't NEED any more people treating it like party central. Really.

I want to be able to someday someway walk out my front door and not have to negotiate through crowds of people selling junk, people smoking and drinking beer, throwing their pizza plates, creating their "art" projects, setting up their git boxes and what have you .... enough already.

I can't go to the community meetings to voice my concerns because I work at night. So here it is.

-- Bedford resident between N. 7 & N. 8th
May 2, 2009, 6:43 pm
jacob from burg says:
this year seems to be doing alot better than last. last year was kind of retarded. noone knew what the hell was going on. they were sooooo uncoordinated. and there was almost nothing spent well on advertising. i would be pissed to if i donated 500 bucks and didnt see anything positive. the pizza guys and panty girl. where did there money go? i live here and had no idea that the streets were going to be closed last year till i stepped out my door. glad they spoke up everyone gets all squimish about causing waves. kudos
June 19, 2009, 4:50 pm
Over 24 from Northside Wbg says:
I'm with "Bedford Resident." The "public space" this event "creates" is filled only with 24-year-olds of the entitled hipster demo. Nobody else feels comfortable walking on their own street during these "Walks."

This event is horrible for the people who actually live right along where it occurs. We already have to put up with this crap all night until, say, 4 am.

What is the actual "community benefit" to the community of people who live here? I'd really like to know what the motive of NAGG is in doing this. People involved with NAGG are running for office... do they just want to say they did this "wonderful thing for the community" and burnish their supposed "green" credentials because cars had to re-route around Bedford for 4 blocks all these weekends? Probably.
July 4, 2009, 6:33 pm
Papi from B'burg says:
There will always be whiners like those mentioned in the article. If you read reviews of their establishments (the ones posted by real customers and not friends) you will see that these store owners are not the sharpest tools in the shed. Keep the walks going, trample over the snivlers.
July 19, 2010, 3:10 pm

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