Williamsburg squawks — over Williamsburg Walks plan

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Williamsburg Walks could be getting a lot shorter.

Organizers of the Williamsburg Walks pedestrian plaza are tinkering with the idea of changing their street festival, thanks to criticism from local merchants.

Bedford Avenue’s business owners are fed up with the festival, claiming a mountain of losses whenever the key roadway is closed to automobiles.

“There were some Saturdays during Williamsburg Walks when we had no revenue, and we depend on weekends to make a profit,” said Jill Goldhand, the owner of A&G Merch, a Williamsburg home furnishings store.

The program to temporarily close one of Brooklyn’s busiest commercial corridors to cars and buses began two years ago as a one-day community initiative. Last year, the Department of Transportation applied the idea to dozens of streets citywide with mixed results, including two rainouts that left Bedford Avenue with just four Saturday closures.

Neighbors Allied for Good Growth, a Williamsburg-based community organization, has coordinated the festival and is suggesting six street closures on Saturdays in June and July.

That didn’t sit well with business owners and residents, including Philip Dray, who thinks that is five weekends too many.

“I understand the idea of the street closed to vehicles. I just felt it was inappropriate and redundant for this here,” said Dray. “The Bedford corridor is already saturated. It’s a playground.”

Business owners have been pressuring organizers to reduce the event schedule or shift it to a less-bustling street and crack down on illegal street vendors, who set up shop right outside retails paying thousands of dollars per month in rent.

Spoonbill and Sugartown Booksellers owner Miles Bellamy said that Williamsburg Walks has not been healthy for retailers because pedestrians prefer to stay outside and hang out instead of visiting stores.

“There’s so much going out on the street. No one wants to shop then,” said Bellamy, who would be in favor of a one-day fair.

Williamsburg Walks coordinator Gregor Nemitz-Ziadie said that some criticism is misplaced, and that the organization has been working with the Sanitation Department to pick up extra trash, and has encouraged the 94th Precinct to give out citations more aggressively to illegal street vendors, which cut into local merchants’ profits.

“We’re not promoting vendors and we don’t want to be accused of doing so,” said Nemitz-Ziadie. “We’re turning the street over to pedestrians and artists, not to local vendors.”

But Dray believes the community’s voice is being ignored by a community organization that is supposed to improve the neighborhood’s quality of life, not hurt local merchants or add more noise to an already bustling strip.

Neighbors Allied for Good Growth member Lacey Tauber defended the program, but said she was open to scaling it back or moving it to another street in the neighborhood. According to Tauber, the group will address the issue at its next board meeting.

“This is a community event and we want the community to be on board,” said Tauber.

Updated 5:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Jaimie from Brooklyn Heights says:
Wiliamsburg sqwaks? More like Williamsburg squeaks - who's the chirping canary in the photo accompanying this article?
I think she taw a puddy-cat.
March 23, 2010, 2:01 am
Chad from Park Slope says:
No, these walks have been the highlight of my week. We need plazas - cities without plaza walks are just terrible. I mean who could imagine San Antonio without the plaza walk. I feel like we're falling behind and that worries me. I mean worry is not good, especially not in these times. Let's get a walk and tell city hall what we think about williamswalk.
March 23, 2010, 3:33 am
ladyperson from williamsburg says:
I have to say that of the four Williamsburg Walks Saturdays, the first was a major heat wave and the last had monsoon-like rainstorms. Bad weather definitely has a negative impact on business - on those two Saturdays, Bedford Avenue was a ghost town (strip?).

And speaking of my own experience: while I enjoyed WW and shopped and ate on Bedford Avenue, I was definitely recession/budget conscious - no high-priced anything for me, including lingerie and whimsical housewares. I suspect that's true of many others as well.

People should acknowledge that that there are many, many factors that impact businesses positively and negatively. Identifying and dealing with those factors is something people go to business school for - it's right at the heart of what it takes to run a successful business. To single out Williamsburg Walks for a revenue drop (during extreme weather and a major recession) seems a bit simplistic.
March 23, 2010, 8:40 am
Joe from Greenpoint says:
Let's be clear - WW is not a street fair, it is pedestrian shopping street on a corridor that badly needs the walking space. I TRIED to shop on Bedford Avenue last weekend but I could hardly get around because the sidewalks were so crowded. I wanted to buy two birthday gifts for friends and I went to check out Whisk, Spoonbill, Minimarket, Bedford Cheese, and Red Pearl. But my experience was very offputting - when I could manage to get through the crowds, every step I took someone brushed up against me, and I was clocked hard in the shoulder by someone's bag no less than three times, not to mention the baby strollers - I'm not sure how anyone with children can stand trying to navigate those narrow crowded sidewalks. Eventually I just left and bought my gifts in Manhattan and in Greenpoint.

This street desperately needs more room to walk and I'm not coming back to shop at any of these stores this summer UNLESS its on a day of Williamsburg Walks. I can't understand how businesses don't support WW when people can't even get to their stores because the sidewalks are too narrow and crowded to walk on. It looks to me like 99% of the vehicle traffic is just passing through on their way to somewhere else so I don't see how keeping the street open to vehicles during the afternoon is helping anyone. I would want to see a poll of ALL the businesses on the street (not just a few complainers) and have them produce register logs for those days (not just anecdotal complaints) before I believe for a second that making this a pedestrian street is bad for business.
March 23, 2010, 9 am
ladyperson from williamsburg says:
Joe from Greenpoint, I agree with you. I usually avoid Bedford Avenue, ESPECIALLY on weekends, because the sidewalks are jam packed and there are too many cars in the street - moving AND double parked variety, so I can't maneuver there either. It's normally a really sh*tty experience.

During WW I ventured into Bedford Avenue stores that I'd never even noticed before. Okay, I didn't make purchases at all of them, on WW days, but I've gone back since and bought things.

"Nobody goes there any more, it's too crowded."

Let NAG know what you think:
March 23, 2010, 9:06 am
LeeC from Bedford Resident says:
Yes, the streets and sidewalks of Williamsburg are crowded, but closing the streets did NOTHING to help that. All it did was act as one huge advertisement to those outside of the community that Williamsburg is your place to party not only during the evening, but now during the day as well. WmWalks has contributed to the "anything goes" atmosphere.

Also, whoever thought that six weekends was a good idea? Six of anything is TOO much. One would think that closing a city street to traffic would make it quieter, but on the contrary, it makes it MUCH noisier. (I was so happy the weekend it got rained out. talk about peaceful!)

The MAIN problem with crowding in Williamsburg is the overabundance of vendors. They impede pedestrian flow more than anything else. They actually impede car traffic too because I can't walk out of my door and over to the subway without tripping on junk. So guess what? I walk in the street!

What NAG should do is find and support an open parking lot for these vendors and so they can get out of the commercial zone of Bedford between N. 3rd & N. 8th street.

Oh, and regarding the shopping comments up there, I'm willing to bet the merchants are able to tell the difference in their tills between a regular weekend during a recession and a Williamsburg Walks weekend during the recession.
March 23, 2010, 10:21 am
LeeC from Bedford Resident says:
It's interesting that someone from Park Slope says we need plazas. I'd like to bring a few thousand of my friends to come and party underneath your window for six Saturdays this summer and see how you feel about "plazas." Park Slope has some of the widest sidewalks in the city. We have a real problem in Wmburg, and I don't think that making a city street into a plaza is going to help.

That said, I agree that places for people are important. But the best plazas have had at least some planning and maintenance. At these events there is no one in control and no one is there to maintain anything. There is a tent from NAG, but no one does anything to control what goes on at these events, so as I said, it's anything goes. Last summer we had a crowd of a hundred or so people right under our window hooting and hollering during an all-you-can-eat hot dog contest. Each time one of these "Walks" is held it gets a little crazier.

Perhaps NAG should look at getting community control over some of the building development that aren't happening and use *those* spaces for people to relax in. A city needs plazas and parks, yes, but it also needs *streets* and *sidewalks* that work. Closing down streets so that people can hold impromptu events like hot dog eating contests is not my idea of what a plaza is all about.
March 23, 2010, 10:39 am
NH from Williamsburg says:
I question why the organizers want to use Bedford Avenue all of the time. What the neighborhood needs are events that draw people away from Bedford Avenue.

Why not have something on Grand Avenue where the merchants would probably be happy to see pedestrians? Or why not organize something for Greenpoint? Why does it always have to be in Williamsburg? (Because the organizers just don't think those neighborhoods are hip enough to have something like this, or ??)
March 23, 2010, 11:22 am
ladyperson from williamsburg says:
To LeeC, I wish I had your faith in some of these business owners, all of whom are passionate but not all of whom are at the top of their game. I was at a couple of meetings where WW was discussed, and the lingerie store owner said that summer was her first year in business. So I have no idea how she'd know how a Williamsburg Walks Saturday in June stacked up against the same Saturday of the previous year, having none to compare.

The recession was poor timing for her -she sells lovely high-end luxury goods and I'm sure when things turn around she'll do great. I hope things turn around soon for her sake.

The recession wasn't just a news story - nearly everyone I knew was affected somehow, and so many people (including myself) didn't have steady jobs. The recession isn't the only cause for poor business returns on Williamsburg Walks days. It's a number of factors. But it was a significant factor that can't be overlooked. Just like extreme weather keeps shoppers at home, and gorgeous weather brings everyone out into the sunshine.

I am sorry that Williamsburg businesses are struggling, but I wish they'd take a harder, more honest look at all the factors; anecdotes and superstition are no match for research. They'd be doing *themselves* a huge favor, because then they'd have the information they need to successfully change their business plans and survive tough times.

Interestingly, on Bedford Avenue during WW I saw several signs urging shoppers to visit Grand - it seems like those merchants might welcome Williamsburg Walks and make it work for them, if offered a chance.

Last, Manhattan Avenue between Greenpoint Avenue and Bedford Avenue has had a dozen empty storefronts for at least a year. Let's blame that on Williamsburg Walks too.
March 23, 2010, 11:34 am
ladyperson from williamsburg says:
LeeC, I do agree with you that the programming undermined the stated goal of Williamsburg Walks, which is simply to give back some public space to pedestrians. Hot dog eating contests and other events don't fit in with that.
March 23, 2010, 11:36 am
LeeC from Bedford Resident says:
ladyperson, you made some good points about the merchants and the recession. On the other hand, I think that since the walks were held on one day each weekend, the merchants could probably see a difference between their takes on Saturday vs. Sunday. (But I agree that some of them are clueless!)

Anyway, from my perspective, it's not just about pleasing or not pleasing the merchants. An event for the community should be community based and there should be strong and good reasons for closing down a major thoroughfare. The only thing Williamsburg Walks has done for the community so far is to advertise the idea that our community is an Anything Goes kind of place.

After the police barriers are put away, I still live here. I still have to walk on this street and deal with the mess and the garbage and the chaos and people partying like it's 1999.

Yes, we need spaces for people & not cars. But Bedford Avenue is not the best place for it. The way this is set up is definitely not helping our neighborhood.
March 23, 2010, 12:58 pm
ladyperson from williamsburg says:
LeeC, I definitely agree that this should be a community based event. And again, the idea was a car-free environment, where the community could eat and walk and shop in peace.

I think NAG has tried really hard, and generally done a great job, but it does seem like it's been a huge effort to rein in the hordes of street vendors and impromptu party situations. I don't have any helpful suggestions about it, other than to demand that the city do its part and provide the services that would make things work better.

Bedford Avenue is such a destination anyway, and I feel for you guys who live there, though I do like the effort to have a community based event. I wonder if maybe NAG would consider doing this over on Grand Avenue? Maybe they can reach out to residents and businesses there, and see what people think. If folks over there are game, Bedford Avenue could get a breather as another part of the community got the spotlight. And if the city does its job with street sweeping, vendor control etc it could be a win for everyone.
March 23, 2010, 2:15 pm
Zeke from Williamsburg says:
WW was one of the highlights of last summer -- add more days, don't cut it back.

This might not be the best thing for businesses--though I doubt the extra foot traffic hurts restaurants--but they aren't the only ones that count.
March 24, 2010, 9:49 am
Joe from Greenpoint says:
I agree that the programming is starting to eclipse the pedestrian benefit a bit. On the one hand you have people dissatisfied with the pedestrian street at Montague Street because the streets WEREN'T filled with people - some press considered it a bust because it wasn't crowded. And on the other hand you have people here complaining about this ped street being too successful in that it draws crowds of revelers. But it shouldn't be an event or a street fair - ease back on the programming and the marketing a bit and just let it be a pedestrian street and I think it would be fine

But if you live on Bedford Avenue and complain about noise and drunkenness on Saturday nights I think you need a reality check. You are living above what has become the Williamsburg equivalent of Saint Mark's Place or Bleecker Street and if late night noise is not your thing than you may want to consider relocating. Williamsburg Walks ends at 7pm but if was there or not there's going to be noise on weekend nights.
March 24, 2010, 10:36 am
LeeC from Bedford Resident says:
Joe, the problem is, no one is in charge of the event except for volunteers who seem to have no clue about how to run something like this. The organizers didn't plan on having any "programming" or "marketing" at all but they haven't been able to stop people from taking advantage of a closed street and using it any way they see fit. When I complained several times last year, there was *no one* available to do *anything* about the problems.

A street closure with too few organizers and no police in sight is like a giant neon sign that says Come One, Come All and Do As you Like. Whatever idea the original organizers had about this event has unfortunately been lost.

And regarding living on Bedford Avenue, I've lived here for 22 years and I really can't afford to move anywhere else in the city. When my cranky yet generous landlady passes from this world, we will be forced out of this neighborhood. We can't afford a luxury condo.

If I had to choose between Bedford 22 years ago and Bedford 2010, I'd choose the latter. However, that doesn't mean that I want to throw up my hands and give up and accept everything and anything that happens in my neighborhood. To outsiders it looks like no one cares about this street, but there are people who live here who *do* care.

And that's why it pains me that a community organization like NAG, one that is supposed to be a supporter of the people who *live* here, seems more into the idea of entertaining people who DON'T live here.

If NAG really wants to do something for the neighborhood, they should be pressuring the city to get more garbage clean-up, create more spaces for bikes (which is another thing that makes sidewalks impassable), do something about the massive number of vendors, and the handing out of liquor licenses left and right to anyone who asks. THESE are real problems. And if someone were able to make a dent in them, we wouldn't need a "Williamsburg Walks" created by an artificial method. We'd have a REAL neighborhood to walk in and enjoy, not only with our neighbors, but with everyone.
March 24, 2010, 11:32 am
ladyperson from williamsburg says:
Wow - really well said, LeeC.
March 24, 2010, 11:37 am

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