Fencing and machinery surround the businesses on Second Avenue at E. 86th Street, where subway construction is in full swing. Photo: Madeleine Thompson
Sebastian Castillo, a server at Maz Mezcal, sets tables for the dinner shift. Maz Mezcal has lost a lot of business since the Second Avenue subway construction began. Photo: Madeleine Thompson
“It’s been horrendous,” said Mary Silva, owner of Maz Mezcal. “Business – at least mine and most everyone’s that I’ve spoken to – has dropped anywhere from 30 to 50 percent.”
In order to offset the financial consequences Maz Mezcal and its peers are facing, the Department of Finance is offering them the opportunity to have any fines forgiven that they’ve racked up during the construction. Council Member Ben Kallos encouraged the community to take advantage of the program, which will allow Second Ave. business owners and buildings to have any penalties and interest voided for violations such as snow on the sidewalk, working without a permit, improper trash disposal and failure to conduct required inspections, among others.
“It’s an opportunity for them to get to square one ahead of some legislation I’ve introduced that would actually put their businesses at risk if they haven’t been good neighbors,” Kallos said.
At Kallos’ press conference last week, Finance Department Commissioner Jacques Jiha said almost 700,000 violations have gone into judgment since the construction on the subway began.
“The last time we offered any kind of penalty relief was in 2009, and we believe the time has come to give New York City taxpayers the opportunity and incentive to resolve their debt with the City,” Jiha said.
According to Silva, Maz Mezcal doesn’t have any fines, but if it did she was sure the forgiving fines program would “mean the world.”
“I wouldn’t have been able to pay because there’s no money,” she said, crediting an understanding landlord with her restaurant’s survival. Though she has some loyal, repeat customers and has raised her prices, she’s concerned about the future of her restaurant.
The end of the subway construction is near – it is currently scheduled to open in December – but even as it brings more business to the area, the subway’s arrival is also seen as likely to raise rents all around. “It’s very sad,” she said, tearing up a little. Over the last few months, Maz Mezcal has hosted several meetings for local business owners on the subject of forming a business improvement district, which they are considering as a way of protecting their livelihoods.
Off the Rails, the bar where Kallos announced his campaign for City Council in 2012, is one of several establishments that have closed. Such changes are seen as likely due to construction, but the council member was hopeful that the subway line’s arrival will bring good news too.
“Right now, nobody wants to walk down Second Avenue,” Kallos said. “But you’re going to have pedestrian traffic again.”
Those eligible for the forgiving fines program have until Dec. 12 to apply, after which they will be responsible for the full amount of their fines.
Madeleine Thompson can be reached at email@example.com