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Bid problem: Mermaid Ave merchants want out of proposed Coney business-boosting district

Thumbs down: Steven Feinstein, who owns Wilensky Hardware on Mermaid Avenue between W. 21st and W. 22nd streets, does not want to be forced to fund what he alleges would be frivolous expenses — like holiday lights — incurred by a proposed so-called business improvement district in Coney Island.
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Mom-and-pop shopkeepers on Mermaid Avenue want out of the business-boosting group some Coney Islanders hope to create in the neighborhood, because the annual fees they would pay to be a part of the so-called Business Improvement District will largely benefit bigger companies’ storefronts on more touristy streets, not their shops, they said.

“If they want to create the BID, keep it along the amusement park district and on Surf Avenue,” said Edwin Cosme, who owns Hair 4 You on Mermaid Avenue between W. 17th and W. 19th streets, as well as a nearby apartment building on the avenue, both of which fall within the current boundaries of the proposed district. “We don’t see how local businesses along Mermaid Avenue are going to benefit. It’s an additional financial burden.”

Last December, leaders of the local Alliance for Coney Island kicked off the formal process to create the bid, whose current proposed footprint includes properties along Mermaid Avenue, others on parts of Surf, Stillwell, and Neptune avenues, and those along the Reigelmann Boardwalk between W. Fifth and W. 23rd streets.

The city-sanctioned district would fund supplemental services — including sidewalk and street cleaning, new signage, holiday lights, and citywide promotion of local shops — through annual taxes levied on business and property owners within it.

The median cost of the taxes, which the city calls “assessments,” for Mermaid Avenue business and property owners would be just more than $500 per year, according to Alliance executive director Alexandra Silversmith, who added that owners of the avenue’s larger storefronts would pay more, because the tax is partly determined by square footage.

But many Mermaid merchants don’t want to pay a penny, with several signing a petition against the bid’s formation that Cosme and his fellow local property owner Daniel Ioannou circulated last year.

The two bid critics now plan to formally present that opposition in the coming weeks, by delivering an official letter to the Alliance asking it to remove Mermaid Avenue from the proposed bid boundaries on behalf of the avenue’s business and property owners, they said.

“Mermaid Avenue is saying they’re not interested, and their autonomy should be respected,” Ioannou said.

One Mermaid business owner said that even though he could afford a potential annual tax of $1,000 more, he would not be willing to put money towards the bid’s services, which he considers frivolous expenses for his storefront — but not for operations located in other parts of the proposed district.

“Christmas lights are pretty, but they don’t help [my business],” said Steven Feinstein, who owns Wilensky Hardware at Mermaid Avenue and W. 22nd Street. “Mermaid and Surf avenues have totally disparate needs, I don’t see why we should be bundled together. If Mermaid Avenue was removed, I’d be all for it.”

Another entrepreneur, who owns a drug store on Mermaid Avenue, agreed, saying he doesn’t want to pay for supplemental sanitation services as part of the bid, because he already sweeps the sidewalk in front of his shop on a daily basis.

“I’m doing it everyday — there’s not much garbage outside,” said Roger Li, the owner of J & R Pharmacy at Mermaid Avenue and W. 23rd Street.

But business owners who say street maintenance is unnecessary may soon be singing a different tune, according to Silversmith, who said Mermaid Avenue has largely remained clean for most of the past two years thanks to a private sanitation team funded by a state grant, which drained the last of its dollars in 2018.

And not all Mermaid property owners are against the bid — one entrepreneur who owns three properties on the stretch, all of which are within the current proposed boundaries, said the avenue would benefit from the regular upkeep the district would fund.

“Mermaid Avenue has been so depressed for so many years. That whole corridor is unmaintained — it needs help,” said Nino Russo, who also owns Gargiulo’s restaurant on W. 15th Street between Mermaid and Surf avenues, which is within the proposed district as well.

Silversmith and her fellow bid organizers do not want to put local small-businesses in the red, she said, and they will continue to seek feedback from neighborhood business owners before holding the final vote on whether or not to form the district — which will require majority approval from all merchants within it in order to pass.

“We’re trying to get the correct information out and then let people make the right decision based on facts,” she said. “Our goal here is not to put anyone out of business.”

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at jmcshane@schnepsmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.
Updated 8:50 am, February 1, 2019
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Reasonable discourse

Rachel from Brighton Beach says:
How reassuring to the little stores that the proponents of the bid "dont want to put anyone out of business."
Feb. 1, 10:28 am
LK from Fort Greene says:
Businesses in BID locations have been dropping like flies with no help from the BID in negotiating reasonable rent increases. BID laws are outdated and need an overhaul.
Feb. 1, 10:58 am
Anna from Brighton says:
I am a brick and mortar business holder + ecomm seller through multiple channels. Funny how they don't want to be part of this bid but when surf and Neptune improve through beautification they will benefit through neighborhood transparency and accessibility. And who are they kidding, my partners and I are perspectively looking @ possible locations for a new venture with the rising gentrification in the next few years and mermaid avenue is not only hindered by its low lit and outdated environment but its a complete slum. If these businesses can't afford to chip down $500 for neighborhood improvement due to there old school mentality then I guarantee you they won't survive when the neighborhood improves and there rent goes up. Quick facts for you old timers, your business techniques from the 90's don't all apply...you are restricting the demographic that shops in your area by hindering the improvement of the neighborhood through better design, uplighting and street improvement. Your customer base will change in the next 5+ years..so change before that happens. "The more charming and original your business is (we're talking about authenticity that people can feel), the greater the likelihood that gentrification will work to your company's financial advantage" Some facts from a 30 year old for ya penny pinchers.
Feb. 1, 11:32 am
David from Coney says:
Bring on the 5$ LATTES :)
Feb. 1, 12:03 pm
Alex from Luna Park Houses says:
@ Anna - You took the words right out of my mouth. Agree with everything you said and I'm surprised a fellow 30yo from our area has this mindset. We should work/link? Email me - timevstime@gmail.com Alex
Feb. 1, 1:15 pm
Anna from Brighton says:
@Lenard Interesting how expressing an opinion that deviates from the sociological norm of the neighborhood business organizations is associated with immediate corruption. I think what you dont understand that is that I, for instance, am not afraid of gentrification because I know how to make a brick and mortar store work for that market, I previously evolved my family's business to adjust for neighborhood changes where rents drastically increased due to neighborhood improvement. I am simply stating an observation based on my experience and experience of many of my colleagues who have largely successful shops in extremely gentrified neighborhoods. 1. Extremely hard to fight gentrification, so you might as well be the first to accept the change in your neighborhood and flourish when the time comes. 2. Study the market that is coming in, it's not hard...see how the ever-changing landscape for brick and mortar shops has evolved and how you can increase the ROI on the current stock by adding additional services amongst a host of other savvy upgrades. 3. Stop complaining, persistent progression towards an innovative solution to a key problem is being a business entity entails. And at its core entrepreneurship is a mindset, and I can tell you have already failed or will not survive if you are indeed a businessman. 5. Wilensky Hardware has amazing opportunities to keep his business afloat...hes been around since the 1920s and has a lovely mural to rep it. Yet his yelp reviews are non-existant, his social media...well there is no social media. No wonder hes scared about gentrification if he cant even get customers to leave reviews...I can assure you its not the 500$ for him, its the principle of knowing the landscape is changing and he's not ready to retire. There are promos, add-on services, niching down on core strengths to beat out the neighboring home depot with knowledge, great customer service and in other ways. 6. Hipsters/individuals who will gentrify the neighborhood typically support local neighborhood business...read the stats. 7. I made my quick point and I feel like I should stop after the lovely french pino I have just fashionably gulped down lol But to any business in Coney...evolve or be left behind and suffer..its quite simple....and a good start would be your yelp page lol Get with the new age....your 10 years too late :/ Good luck everyone.
Feb. 3, 1:15 am
Frank from Furter says:
I always thought that the cleaning of the streets was the City's responsibility. Yes I have to sweep my sidewalk. The promotion of the businesses are my responsibility. How much does the bid cost? If its $500 per store that would seem to be not so much as to put a business out. Yes rents go up. The largest driver of "gentrification" is the increased population and safer city. If $500 puts your business out, you have bigger problems than a BID. When the buildings were cheap why didn't you buy it?
Feb. 3, 9:22 am
Frank from Furter says:
BTW is this the same group of people who wanted Trader Joe's? Thank goodness you dodn't get whole foods who charges $5.00 for a cup of fair trade organic Joe.
Feb. 3, 9:24 am
am goodridge from Crown Hts/Prospect Hts says:
BID's are a scan thats jacks up rents & real estate taxes causing residents to displace & get priced-out by Gentrification just like Downtown Brooklyn,Williamsburgh & Long Island City. blame REBNY & Amazon
Feb. 4, 10:56 am
Alex from Brighton says:
@am If BID=Gentrification then let's get this ball rolling. Time for Coney to become a year-round hotspot.
Feb. 4, 11:18 am
Ed from Coney Island says:
One has to respectfully see the actual proposed BID budget of this proposal. It’s an annual fee of $1.2 million dollars. $300,000 dollars is going to be allocated for executive, managers and staff salaries, $110,000 for an office space (rent) insurances, office supplies, utilies etc, in addition $275,000 is to be allocated for special events and tourism promotion along Surf Avenue while the Coney Island Mermaid Avenue merchants are going to receive $5,000. One reason the Russo family from Gargiulo’s are in favor of this proposed BID is that it’s more than likely that the $110,000 that is allocated under this BID proposal will directly benefit them since they have a number of commercial vacancies that the BID office will be stationed at, as one can see already that the organization (Alliance for Coney Island) behind the BID is currently renting one of their 25 commercial property as office space. One has to have their boots on the ground in order to really see how this scheme has been structured and how this BID will benefit more the amusement park district and not commercial corridors of Mermaid Avenue. One also has to see how many properties along the amusement park district will be exempted from this BID such as the NY Aquarium. There are many other parcels of concern that area residents and businesses alike are concern on how City own properties such as Abe Stark skating rink and Deno’s kiddie park will be exempted - all located in the amusement park district.
Feb. 10, 11:06 am
Ed from Coney Island says:
Not so fast Allen, do you really believe its going to cost stores $500 per mont, you seem to be missing the bigger picture Coney Island will never be a year round destination - I invite you to take a walk along Surf and Mermaid Avenue during the fall and winter months, its a ghost town with not much to do. Do you really believe its going to cost merchants $500 per year? You must not own a business although Brighton Beach does have a BID there annual BID budget is only $275,000 a year, Coney Island prosed BID budget is estimated to be $1.2 million dollars under the Alliances proposals, as one can see that more than 80% + of the funds is going to benefit the amusement park district and its staff. Things need to be more transparent as they then to be evasive in answering what tax assessment would it cost the Fine Fare Supermarket of Coney Island -I did some research and the cost would be just under $11,000 annually based on the square footage and assessment under this BID proposal. Some people just needs to really grasp the logistic of what a proposed BID is and how is driving out mom and pop shop, and other retailers out of the neighborhood. I am beginning to see a number (not many the) but some shops shuttering their - closing their businesses (out of business) along the Brighton Beach Improvement District - even with the foot traffic along that Avenue there its not easy managing a small business. These BIDS are nothing more than a political - mafia kick back scheme to self serve those that are politically connected so that they can self govern (form of socialism) our neighborhood - Its time to end the our way or the highway mentality.
Feb. 11, 10:29 am

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