LIC businesses battle the effects of unlucky number 7

Starting this March, for 22 weekends until July, 7 Line  will be cut between Manhattan and Queens for construction. The MTA's decision not to provide shuttle service between the two boroughs may impact Long Island City businesses.
Starting this March, for 22 weekends until July, 7 Line will be cut between Manhattan and Queens for construction. The MTA’s decision not to provide shuttle service between the two boroughs may impact Long Island City businesses. (Photo by Jacob Passy)

— Signal problems and maintenance issues have caused major headaches for those along the 7 Line for years. This March, the MTA ramped up construction projects to alleviate these issues as they look to open the 7 train’s extension to Manhattan’s West Side later this year.

Some commuters welcome the effort to improve the line. But Long Island City business owners sing a different tune. That’s because to make these improvements a reality the MTA will cut service between Manhattan and Queens over the course of 22 weekends from March through July. And during this time, the MTA has said it will not provide bus service between Manhattan and Queens.

“It’s gonna kill us,” said Donna Drimer, owner of Matted LIC, an art gallery and framing store. “I’ve got many clients from Brooklyn and Manhattan who won’t be able to get here. You can’t bring any business in.”

This is a common complaint among business owners here, particularly bars and restaurants that depend on weekend traffic.

An Interactive Map of the 7 Line

The 7 Line cuts through many of Queens most diverse neighborhoods. A look into the 7 train’s path serves as a strong education on New York City’s largest borough.

Want to know what’s going on with the 7 train? Check out this interactive map. By hovering over the different buttons, you can learn more about the current construction’s goals and the people who will be affected by the closures.

Rebecca Trent, owner of The Creek and The Cave, a comedy club and bar, estimated that between 50 and 75 percent of her patrons come from Manhattan as well as a majority of her performers. Without an easy way to get to her establishment, she said many of these people have turned elsewhere.

“I’ve lost showcases. I’ve lost three different private parties,” she said. “I have to be up-front with artists and audiences, and as a result I lose business.”

Famous comedian Colin Quinn, who frequented The Creek and The Cave, turned down offers to appear in the neighborhood. “It’ll be a year before he’s here again,” Trent said.

Realtors say they also will feel the closures as most prospective clients tour apartments on weekends.

“There will have to be delays in the appointments. It’s going to affect our traffic a lot,” said Mae Liew, a real estate agent with Modern Spaces NYC. “It does not give clients a good impression.”

Some worry that the disrupted subway service will cause people to forget that neighborhood is alive and running, with a growing population and plenty of new businesses. Such an impression, business owners say, could last long after the construction has ended.

“The neighborhood isn’t sick,” said Sheila Lewandowski, executive director of The Chocolate Factory, an OBIE-award winning theater in Long Island City. “We need to make people know that we’re still here.”

The MTA has been receptive to residents’ requests for help in addressing these issues. One plan, pushed for by local politicians and the LIC Partnership, an organization of local businesses, calls for a redesign of construction notices in subway stations to include language that helps sell Long Island City to commuters.

As of now, the final details of the MTA-sponsored marketing have yet to be determined. The partnership provided content to drive the marketing plans on March 10, but the transit agency will need time to devise a plan before it can roll out a final design.

“We’ve been back and forth,” says Jenna Petok, senior manager of marketing and events for LIC Partnership, about the delays. “We’re nailing down what needs to be communicated.”

The LIC Partnership also plans to give construction updates and mention local establishments in its weekly newsletter, called “Partnership Perks,” which is distributed to roughly 9,000 readers around Long Island City.

But some business owners have decided to take the marketing into their own hands. Gallery owner Drimer plans to begin a three-part direct mail campaign, which will cost Matted LIC over $5,000. And bar owner Trent plans to book different acts that would appeal to a non-Manhattan audience.

“We’re trying to step up our presence more to elevate our brand,” Trent said. “We’re certainly trying to talk about Long Island City to get us on the map.”

Many business owners are relying on more direct tactics: promotions, special offers and sales. Theater owner Lewandowski, for instance, plans to offer a car service to The Chocolate Factory’s performers and frequent audience members, while Drimer will extend business hours during the week to accommodate Manhattanites, who make up about a third of her customer base.

The LIC Partnership has also begun to plan a variety of events and activities geared toward attracting crowds to the neighborhood. This will include a May 17 event, tentatively named Weekends Walks, during which neighborhood stores and businesses will provide refreshments and activities outdoors on the streets.

LIC Partnership’s Petok said that her organization hopes to assist local leaders who are working to coordinate expanded ferry service, which is not run by the MTA, during the next few months.

Meanwhile, as the closures continue throughout the spring, residents and business owners alike expect the frustrations to continue to grow.

One of Drimer’s major concerns: “How are [we] going to get to Mets games?”

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