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Merchant mutiny! Ft. Greene and C’Hill entrepreneurs turn on local biz-booster group

In action: The city installed new dedicated bus lanes along Fulton Street.
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It’s a bid problem.

Leaders of the business-improvement district charged with promoting commerce in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill better step up their game, or the mom-and-pops that foot the so-called bid’s budget want out, according to irate shopkeepers.

“Get rid of the bid. It’s garbage, the bid does nothing for us,” said Ralph Jawad, who runs two Fulton Street businesses and a Lafayette Avenue deli within the organization’s domain. “All of Fulton Street is paying money to it, and what is the bid doing for us?”

Many of the enraged entrepreneurs said that Fulton Area Business Alliance bid bigwigs’ failure to stop the Department of Transportation from starting to add dedicated bus lanes to a stretch of Fulton Street spanning Fort Greene and Clinton Hill last November was the last straw after years of neglect from the organization.

Shopkeepers blasted the lanes as bad for business because they would increase congestion, reduce parking, and complicate deliveries, and chastised bid leaders for disregarding their concerns when they supported the infrastructure plan at the time.

But the controversial bus lanes are just the latest example of the bid’s failure to improve its commercial district — which incorporates Fulton Street between Ashland Place and Classon Avenue; Lafayette Avenue between Ashland Place and S. Portland Street; and parts of Greene and Putnam avenues.

The business owners are also fed up with its allegedly subpar promotion of their shops, inadequate security services, and poor management of area construction work — including the city’s long-delayed transformation of Fulton Street’s triangular pedestrian island Fowler Square into an open plaza, a makeover the bid conceived of way back in 2010.

“They were building this pedestrian plaza and it took longer than expected, which hurt everyone around the triangle. And the bid was the lead on this project,” said Dimitrios Koutroumanos, the owner of Academy Restaurant on Lafayette Avenue. “The scheduling was pretty horrific.”

And now many shopkeepers are tired of paying the taxes that fund the organization, which collects varying amounts of cash from the entrepreneurs based on their store frontage and other factors to subsidize its annual $480,000 budget — money it should use towards street beautification, security, and other services that roughly two dozen business owners said are lacking in a letter they recently penned to the city asking for a way out.

“The bid has not just failed to improve our lives, it has unimproved them. Our unhappiness with FAB has only grown over time,” read the April 30 letter to the Department of Small Business Services, where officials provide support to individual bids, but do not have a say in their operations.

But the dissatisfied shopkeepers are forgetting that bid leaders actually reduced the amount of regulations the Transportation Department wanted to enact with the Fulton Street bus lanes, according to the business booster’s head.

“People have been going around telling businesses things that are not true. We testified at the community board, reached out to DOT and elected officials, and as a result DOT cut the bus proposal’s street parking limitations by 50 percent,” said Phillip Kellogg. “And FAB secured additional loading zones to help with the businesses to send and receive.”

The bid is also collaborating with New York’s Finest to better protect its member businesses, and working on ways to improve its communication with shopkeepers, whose best interests remain its top priority, Kellogg said.

“We actively and aggressively work with NYPD and other law enforcement agencies, and have been recognized for our efforts,” he said. “We have been ramping up our outreach, and going directly to businesses to hear their concerns, answer their questions, and correct any misinformation they’ve heard. We’re going to do more of that.”

And there’s no simple way for businesses to opt out of the bid, which now automatically incorporates any new storefront opened within its boundaries following its establishment in 2009. The only way to get rid of it is to dissolve it through a complicated legal process, according to a rep for the Small Business Services Department.

But if the bid’s leaders can keep their promises to amp up local stores’ security and promotion, the frustrated shopkeepers will likely be okay with returning to business as usual, according to another entrepreneur.

“We would like to see more marketing, more security,” said Rocky Widdi, who runs the Key Food grocery store at 991 Fulton St. “It just needs a little more improvement.”

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.
Updated 8:53 pm, May 16, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

NN from Boerum Hill says:
The storeowners complaining about the bus lanes are nuts. Most people who live in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill use transit, as do the vast majority of people who go there to shop. The new lanes will reduce congestion and increase foot traffic.
May 14, 5:32 am
Watching the Bait & Switch BIDs from neighborhoods displaced by BIDs says:
The dirty little secret of BIDs such as FAB and the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership is that they are the de facto arm of REBNY developers and hold small stores hostage to 'protection money' even as they parlay their Board Members' real estate interests under the guise of 'helping small businesses' . The main businesses they help are their own and the national chain stores which end up being the only retailers that can afford the rents as displacement and gentrification ensue.,,,check out Downtown Brooklyn folks.

These quasi-governmental non-profits answer to no one...appropriate public property and in levying these stores via the Dept of Finance-make them pay for the sanitation and security they already pay for when these shopkeepers pay their taxes to the city in the first place. Double indemnity...and what do they get?

The BIDs have the ear of city agencies-Community Boards and the BP. It's no coincidence that the template for them is the NYEDC...
carefully honed in furtherance of the 'public-private' partnerships. Baloney public-private partnerships which proliferate because the Mayor would rather give $$$ to his developer pals than build schools, invest in libraries, protect NYCHA...et al.

People are beginning to catch on...these BIDs insult the intelligence as self-designated 'do-gooders' for Mom & Pop stores which are being held up and often fearful of speaking out.

Perhaps this is the beginning of rolling it back-long overdue.
May 14, 9:32 am
Cassie says:
No surprise that these predominantly male, middle eastern business owners have issues with the predominantly female, democractic BID. In their home cultures women and democracy are not respected. They are just bringing their ignorance over here.
May 14, 4:55 pm
Resident from Brooklyn says:
Nobody is driving to shop here. Better public transit in the area will help everyone.

What's more likely is that the business owners drive instead of taking transit and are therefore unhappy.
May 15, 8:35 am
Hannibal Smith from Clinton Hill says:
What a lazy story - the reporter clearly lapped up every utterance of the professional gadflies who clog up every public meeting with their imbecilic and juvenile prattle. People complain multiple times a day about transit, yet when they do something to alleviate it all they do is whine further.

The neighborhood is changing and clearly for the better. Junk pieces like this only validate the bitter-enders who feel alienated from development and paint an inaccurate picture of a complex and dynamic situation. The people who are quoted in this article, the writer, and the editor who approved this piece all need to grow up.
May 15, 9:03 am
Rob from NY says:
"But the controversial bus lanes are just the latest example of the bid’s failure to improve its commercial district...."

Some would argue the bus lanes, which carry far more potential shoppers than car lanes, are an example of the bid's success.
May 15, 10:25 am
Brooklyn Native from Here says:
“The neighborhood is clearly changing for the better”. Don’t you mean whiter? Hannibal is the epitome of the colonizer attitudes, that will not be comfortable in their new digs until all people of color are removed from their sight. The people that have lived here are just “bitter enders” that need to be removed. Hannibal will be on his phone with 911 every time he sees a black person until all that’s left is the gentrifiers.
May 15, 10:26 am
Mustache Pete from Windsor Terrace says:
NN from Boerum Hill says:
"The storeowners complaining about the bus lanes are nuts...."

Two things: 1) making deliveries has legitimately become harder, and 2) most business owners like to park in front. Otherwise yeah, absolute nonsense about the bus lanes. Congestion is improving. If the MTA made the times more reliable the buses would be even better.

Fowler is shameful and a mess though, and I personally wouldn't trust FAB's Philip Kellogg with a dollar to buy ices.
May 15, 11:02 am
NattyB from Greenwood Heights says:
As someone who bike commutes through downtown Brooklyn every morning on my way to the Brooklyn Bridge, the Fulton st busway is by far the most pleasant part of downtown Brooklyn. Seems like a no-brainer but I don't go by Fort Greene much myself.

Everything else is jammed up. I think the biggest problems with bus lanes generally (see the always filled with parked cars Livingston St bus lane in downtown Brooklyn), is the lack of enforcement of bus lane and bus stop blocking, decreases the usefulness of the buses, which causes people to lose faith in them and rendering the people who ride them to be those who have no other option (i.e. poor), and causes a vicious cycle.

I wish we had more true busways like Fulton st. The supremacy of the single occupancy vehicle in densely populated Brooklyn is one of the biggest harms to our collective quality of life but absolutely no politician will speak out on this (not even St. Brad Lander) so when we get proposals to enhance mobility such as this, such proposals are already watered down. Nobody is driving to these stores.

I frequently take the B63 but man how I wish it wasn't always held up by double-parked cars and single occupancy vehicles. It's barely quicker than walking (which is why I bike as much as I can but I can't take my toddler or pregnant wife with me on bike easily hence I take the bus too).
May 15, 12:18 pm
Henry Ford from Bay Ridge says:
All these liberal, Hillary supporting, shrieking harpies need to grow a pair. These mom and pop stores need to get with the times.
May 16, 12:08 pm

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