Mom-and-pop shopkeepers on Mermaid Avenue want out of the business-boosting group some Coney Islanders hope to create in the neighborhood, because the annual fees they would pay to be a part of the so-called Business Improvement District will largely benefit bigger companies’ storefronts on more touristy streets, not their shops, they said.
“If they want to create the BID, keep it along the amusement park district and on Surf Avenue,” said Edwin Cosme, who owns Hair 4 You on Mermaid Avenue between W. 17th and W. 19th streets, as well as a nearby apartment building on the avenue, both of which fall within the current boundaries of the proposed district. “We don’t see how local businesses along Mermaid Avenue are going to benefit. It’s an additional financial burden.”
Last December, leaders of the local Alliance for Coney Island kicked off the formal process to create the bid, whose current proposed footprint includes properties along Mermaid Avenue, others on parts of Surf, Stillwell, and Neptune avenues, and those along the Reigelmann Boardwalk between W. Fifth and W. 23rd streets.
The city-sanctioned district would fund supplemental services — including sidewalk and street cleaning, new signage, holiday lights, and citywide promotion of local shops — through annual taxes levied on business and property owners within it.
The median cost of the taxes, which the city calls “assessments,” for Mermaid Avenue business and property owners would be just more than $500 per year, according to Alliance executive director Alexandra Silversmith, who added that owners of the avenue’s larger storefronts would pay more, because the tax is partly determined by square footage.
But many Mermaid merchants don’t want to pay a penny, with several signing a petition against the bid’s formation that Cosme and his fellow local property owner Daniel Ioannou circulated last year.
The two bid critics now plan to formally present that opposition in the coming weeks, by delivering an official letter to the Alliance asking it to remove Mermaid Avenue from the proposed bid boundaries on behalf of the avenue’s business and property owners, they said.
“Mermaid Avenue is saying they’re not interested, and their autonomy should be respected,” Ioannou said.
One Mermaid business owner said that even though he could afford a potential annual tax of $1,000 more, he would not be willing to put money towards the bid’s services, which he considers frivolous expenses for his storefront — but not for operations located in other parts of the proposed district.
“Christmas lights are pretty, but they don’t help [my business],” said Steven Feinstein, who owns Wilensky Hardware at Mermaid Avenue and W. 22nd Street. “Mermaid and Surf avenues have totally disparate needs, I don’t see why we should be bundled together. If Mermaid Avenue was removed, I’d be all for it.”
Another entrepreneur, who owns a drug store on Mermaid Avenue, agreed, saying he doesn’t want to pay for supplemental sanitation services as part of the bid, because he already sweeps the sidewalk in front of his shop on a daily basis.
“I’m doing it everyday — there’s not much garbage outside,” said Roger Li, the owner of J & R Pharmacy at Mermaid Avenue and W. 23rd Street.
But business owners who say street maintenance is unnecessary may soon be singing a different tune, according to Silversmith, who said Mermaid Avenue has largely remained clean for most of the past two years thanks to a private sanitation team funded by a state grant, which drained the last of its dollars in 2018.
And not all Mermaid property owners are against the bid — one entrepreneur who owns three properties on the stretch, all of which are within the current proposed boundaries, said the avenue would benefit from the regular upkeep the district would fund.
“Mermaid Avenue has been so depressed for so many years. That whole corridor is unmaintained — it needs help,” said Nino Russo, who also owns Gargiulo’s restaurant on W. 15th Street between Mermaid and Surf avenues, which is within the proposed district as well.
Silversmith and her fellow bid organizers do not want to put local small-businesses in the red, she said, and they will continue to seek feedback from neighborhood business owners before holding the final vote on whether or not to form the district — which will require majority approval from all merchants within it in order to pass.
“We’re trying to get the correct information out and then let people make the right decision based on facts,” she said. “Our goal here is not to put anyone out of business.”
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