Restaurateurs in Williamsburg and Bushwick are scared by the news that the MTA is considering the idea of shutting down the L train between Brooklyn and Manhattan for as many as three years — and they're already planning a meeting to talk about what might happen. Members of the Brooklyn Allied Bars and Restaurants, a group of businesses in North Brooklyn, have been emailing each other since Gothamist report came out yesterday, and a leader of the group, The Woods owner David Rosen, has been getting lots of texts and emails from business owners who are upset about the news. They're organizing a sit-down with elected officials later this month in hopes of finding out more information, he says. "This is a potential nightmare scenario," Rosen says.
Such a long shutdown is high stakes for restaurants off the L train. Previous shutdowns have proven that business declines significantly without it, several restaurant owners in Williamsburg and Bushwick tell Eater. Rosen recalls a time when it was down over Black Friday, one of the busiest weekends of the year. At a BABAR meeting afterward, some restaurants and bars said that their sales were down a good 80 percent from the year before. Tyson Ho, owner of Bushwick barbecue joint Arrogant Swine off the Morgan stop, says he saw about a 40 percent drop in business during the six-week shutdown last spring — and the few weekends afterward, as people slowly started to remember the L train was working again. The area around his restaurant isn't residential, so many of his customers are tourists or coming in from Manhattan, Ho says. "I was just getting calls just every single week," Ho explains. "'Hey, we’re trying to get to you, me and my husband, or whoever wants to throw a big party. But is there any other train besides the L?' Well, no. There’s not."
Bars and restaurants in Williamsburg or off the Morgan Avenue stop in particular get hit the hardest, says Matthew Webber, who has ownership in several places in both Williamsburg and Bushwick, including Soft Spot, The Narrows, King Noodle, and Birdy's. In the past, no weekend L train service from Manhattan has meant about a 30 percent drop in weekend business at his Williamsburg businesses, Webber says. The demographic in the neighborhood has gotten older and more affluent, meaning the younger people going to bars travel in on the weekends, he says. Morgan Avenue, another destination spot with less neighborhood business, also suffers. "In Bushwick, when trains are down, your demographic gets stuck on the weekends. It doesn't necessarily affect you," Webber says. "Williamsburg gets brutalized."
Even with neighborhood business, the lack of L train service from Manhattan can have lingering impact on Bushwick restaurants and bars, Webber says. For example, late night business dwindles slightly, since many people stopping in are passing by on their way home from Manhattan for a final drink, he says. And businesses like coffee shops can suffer, too, says Esther Bell, owner of bar and coffee shop The West. Much of her morning business comes from commuters walking to the L train, she says, and the lack of service could impact that. She and other businesses on Grand Street have been fighting for years for the MTA to open a G train entrance near Union Avenue and Hope Street, and she's hoping that would curb some of the losses. "The city should at least do that if they’re going to shut down the L," Bell says.
Kevin Adey, the owner of Faro, says he's slightly dubious that the MTA will ultimately make the decision to shut down the L train for three years. People spend more to rent in Williamsburg than in Manhattan, and developers have been spending millions of dollars to build commercial hubs in Bushwick. Those are people who should have more power to keep things going, Adey says. "There’s so much money involved in that system — to break it, would be amazing to me," Adey notes. "It would really stun me for it to go that long." In the case of a shutdown, Adey says a surprising amount of his customers arrive to the Bushwick Italian restaurant by Uber or yellow cab, and based on his past experiences, a lot of the residents in Bushwick and Ridgewood would still be coming in to eat. Still, it's not something he wants to happen. "It absolutely scares the shit out of me," he says.
Most businesses don't have a year and a half of cushion to wait out the storm.
Rosen and BABAR are holding their breath before they make any requests to the MTA. All they're working off of so far is what they've heard in the press, Rosen says, and they want to talk to community groups and local elected officials to learn more about what's happening before jumping into official suggestions, he adds. "At minimal, we’ll get everyone in a room and talk about it — if it is true that this is going to happen," Rosen says. "I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion." The restaurants Eater spoke with realize that the MTA has to make fixes for the L train, and regardless of what sort of service disruption happens, they'll likely be impacted negatively. Many of them are just hoping they'll get some say what in how it happens. "Most businesses don't have a year and a half of cushion to wait out the storm," Ho says. "Places like Duane Reade and Starbucks can survive. Businesses like me don't."