How Do Restaurants and Bars Feel About the L Train Shutdown Reversal?

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While the announcement is undoubtedly good news for residents commuting via the L train into Manhattan for work, bar and restaurant owners still need to know how the new nights and weekends plan will work.

In January of 2016, Gothamist broke news that the MTA was planning a three-year shutdown of L train service between Manhattan and Brooklyn to repair damage from Hurricane Sandy to the Canarsie Tube. Ever since, North Brooklyn residents living off the line have lived in a state of anxiety: Should they move? How will they get to work? Will replacement buses be perpetually packed?

For restaurant and bar owners, the questions were even more urgent. As Eater New York reported at the time, many spots from Williamsburg through Ridgewood and all the way into Canarsie would have their bottom lines deeply affected by the loss of what some owners cited could be as much as 30 to 40 percent of their regular clientele. Short-term weekend closures had already caused such drops. The worst was anticipated by restaurants that shut down completely, such as the beloved Delaware & Hudson, whose chef-owner Patti Jackson noted the impending train cut among their reasons for going out of business at the end of last year. Much ink was spilled over potential doom by local publications.

But yesterday, Governor Andrew Cuomo pulled the rug out from everyone when he announced the shutdown was canceled. “The original plan would have shut the tunnel’s two tubes, starting on April 27, to repair damage from Hurricane Sandy’s floodwaters in 2012,” reported the Times. “Mr. Cuomo’s new plan could take about the same amount of time, but would keep full train service during weekdays and close just one of the tubes on nights and weekends.”

This is a move that, even three years ago, Kevin Adey, owner of Bushwick Italian restaurant Faro, saw coming. He told Eater then, “There’s so much money involved in that system—to break it, would be amazing to me.” Today, he’s grateful to have been correct. “I’m still not surprised that a full-scale shutdown will not happen,” Adey says over email. “There are too many people to just say ‘no.’ There always had to be a better way and I’m glad the governor has officially recognized it. Let’s just hope that the work is done safely and quickly.”

Olivia Hu, who’s the owner and general manager of the just-opened bar Old Timers under the JMZ stop at Myrtle-Broadway, had incorporated an expectation of increased volume during the L shutdown into her business plan: As more people would have been trekking to the JMZ, she anticipated more customers for their “recklessly cheap” happy hour. When she and her business partner were pleading their case before the state liquor board and their local community board, they saw ears perk up when the L train’s future was mentioned.

“We said we’re going to have a lot of new residents in this area because the L train shutdown is happening,” Hu says. “As we were approaching the community board and liquor board, we noticed reactions. In both cases, their interest was visibly piqued. Everyone was getting ready for this really inconvenient plan.”

While that’s now changed, she isn’t worried. “We were expecting to be a commuter’s haven,” Hu says. “People who commuted to Manhattan for work and came back to Bushwick.”

David Rosen, partner at the Woods and the Breakers in Williamsburg, as well as a leader in the group Brooklyn Allied Bars and Restaurants (BABAR) and a co-founder of the L Train Coalition, still has questions about the specifics.

“Overall, if I had to guess, this is certainly very good news with a few caveats,” he says. “Number one is still understanding what exactly the plan is, the details—more transparency around exactly how it’s going to work. The subset of that is really committing to time frames. If we go from a full shutdown that was going to last 15 to 18 months to a partial shutdown that lasts 15 to 18 months, that’s great.”

While the announcement is undoubtedly good news for residents commuting via the L train into Manhattan for work, the second caveat is that bar and restaurant owners still need to know how the new nights and weekends plan will work. “For our business, that is still a concern. It might end up being the same impact as the prior plan,” Rosen says. “I’m cautiously optimistic.”

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Roshan Vyas.

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