Four weekends in to the 11-weekend shutdown of the 7 train at two of its stations in Long Island City — LIC’s third station, Court Square, is closed altogether until April 2 — affected businesses and residents have a variety of opinions when it comes to the closures’ impact.
Reservation cancellations, a lack of parking because of increased cars, a longer commute to Manhattan and the difficulty Long Island City employees themselves have found in getting to work are among the chief complaints, though many business owners seemed to indicate that this round of shutdowns was something that, for better or worse, they’ve grown used to.
“It’s like a snowstorm,” Vicki Polito, manager of Bella Via Restaurant on Vernon Boulevard and 48th Avenue, said of the shutdowns. “You just kind of factor it into your life.”
Polito was referring to the frequency with which the 7 in the area has been shut down over the years.
“It happens every year,” she explained as she tidied up behind the bar. “So we’ve been dealing with it for the last nine years.”
Joe Conley, the chairman of Community Board 2, which serves the area, put it succinctly: “It really is a nuisance.”
Underscoring Polito’s words and the sentiments of many others, Conley noted, “This has been going on for many, many years, that we get these service interruptions.” Before the latest round of shutdowns, “We were just hopeful they were going to do surgery on the patient one time,” he said.
But clearly, that is not the case. The MTA has said that construction on the 7 line will continue through 2016, and Long Island City can expect another round of shutdowns in the fall.
According to Deirdre Parker, the train will close again for six weekends sometime in October and November, but said it was too early to provide specific dates. “As the time draws closer, we will alert the community, elected officials and the public,” Parker wrote in an email
For Sheila Lewandowski, executive director of the Chocolate Factory, a theater located a block from the Vernon Blvd./Jackson Ave. 7 station — one of the affected three — getting a schedule of closures over the next five years would help.
“If you think about it as one winter, it’s very different than thinking about it as five,” Lewandowski said. She added that the Chocolate Factory hasn’t yet had any weekend shows since the 7 train closures began on Jan. 21, but that its effects have been felt in cancellations for rehearsals. She is concerned about upcoming March shows with weekend performances.
Emirjeta Xhelili, a barista at Cranky’s Cafe on Vernon Boulevard, noted her commute to work is a half hour to an hour longer. To get to LIC from her home in Midwood, she normally takes the Q through Manhattan, then transfers to the 7 at Times Square. Now, she explained, she has to switch from the Q to the N, which she takes to Queens Plaza, and then transfer to a shuttle bus to Vernon Boulevard, a commute which has taken as long as two hours.
“The way they handle the shuttle is nonsensical,” said Carlos Dallorso, the manager of Spokesman Cycles, a bike shop on Vernon. “People want to go to Grand Central,” he explained, wondering why the MTA couldn’t provide bus service into the city.
Conley said the community board is working with the MTA to improve the shuttle bus route, but not into Manhattan. He thinks travel time on the shuttles between Queens Plaza and Vernon Boulevard could be significantly reduced if the buses took a less circuitous route.
He hopes to “consolidate some of the stops and just have a straight run up Jackson Avenue,” a thoroughfare that cuts through the neighborhood and hits all the train stops along the way. At the moment, the bus winds its way from Queens Plaza to a stop at 23rd Street and 44th Drive, for example.
For some, though, even a faster shuttle won’t provide much relief. When asked how the weekend shutdowns are affecting Italian restaurant Testaccio, on Vernon, waiter Walter Stefino simply said “a lot.”
And Steve Hofstetter, who just opened a comedy club, the Laughing Devil, on Vernon last December, said that half his business comes from outside Queens.
He has gotten five to 10 cancellations per weekend show because of the train shutdowns, he explained.
Hofstetter has devised one small way to combat the downtick: offering people who buy tickets to the show a discount of $2.25 — essentially reimbursing the train ride into Long Island City — with a promotional code.
“If the MTA is going to give us a middle finger, we might as well fight back with ours,” he said.