Sidewalk cafes ‘positive’ for street life and neighborhood revitalization
Chances are you’ve never heard of Old Bloomingdale as a neighborhood in Manhattan. The name is derived from a road that traversed the Upper West Side during Dutch colonial times. However, community leaders on the Upper WestSide are hoping to make Old Bloomingdale – or just Bloomingdale – as well-known as iconic neighborhoods in lower Manhattan.
The area in question, from 96th to 110th St. between Columbus Ave. and Broadway, is full of places with names like the Bloomingdale School, Bloomingdale School of Music, Bloomingdale Playground and the Bloomingdale Library.
But aspirations for the neighborhood run deeper than a new name. In interviews with the West Side Spirit, members of Community Board 7 said there’s an effort by the board and other Upper West Side organizations to revitalize the neighborhood by facilitating new business growth in the area.
“North of 96th Street is kind of a dicey area and it’s been our agenda to help develop restaurant projects up there,” said Marc Glazer, a CB7 member who sits on the board’s Business and Consumer Issues Committee. “We work very hard to make it easier for them to get their licenses, we just push for it very hard, and that’s very important to us because it’s helping to develop that neighborhood.”
As an example, Glazer mentioned a bar and restaurant at 108th St. and Amsterdam that applied to CB7 for a sidewalk cafe permit. When the BCI committee visited the restaurant, they say that drugs were being dealt out of a building across the St., what Glazer called a “bad element.” “We realized right away that having a sidewalk cafe out there would put eyes on the St. and would hopefully scare [the drug dealers] away,” said Glazer, who later mentioned that the business owners and neighbors saw a difference when the drug dealers disappeared after the sidewalk cafe opened.
However, Glazer said improvements in the Upper West Side come down to more than just a pro-business stance in CB7 or the granting of a few sidewalk cafe permits.
“As rents and real estate costs are so high in the lower part, people had to move further north because they couldn’t afford to live further downtown, so I believe it was a combination of factors,” said Glazer. “Everything you do helps. You don’t have to come down lower to go to a nice restaurant now, you can eat up there.”
Glazer said that in 2007 when he joined the BCI – whose recommendation on liquor licenses is almost always followed by the State Liquor Authority – he had to change attitudes on the committee to be more business-friendly.
However, that’s not to say that CB7 rubber-stamps liquor licenses and other applications that come before the board. Glazer said there are problem-blocks that have a concentration of rowdy bars, and there are legitimate reasons to deny an establishment a liquor license or sidewalk cafe permit.
“There’s two sides of it,” said Glazer, of the BCI committee’s work, “but we do our due diligence.”
That approach was seconded by CB7 chairman Mark Diller, who said his board is just as thoughtful when reviewing business applications as they’ve always been.
“We’re doing what we always are supposed to do there, which is to take a candid, fresh look at each application that’s in front of us to make sure that the interests of the community and business owners are properly balanced,” said Diller.
Diller did say that he’s noticed a revitalization at the top of the Upper West Side and that a lot of the progress has to do with new restaurants in the area.
“It is absolutely the case that…the BCI committee is working quite proactively to make the Upper West Side more business-friendly and to make the community board an instrument of being more business-friendly,” said Diller.
The strongest example of this for Diller is the board’s business-to-business meetups – or B2Bs – where business owners on the Upper West Side come together to learn about the different products and services they each offer. The idea for B2Bs came from the Business and Consumer Issues Committee, said Diller.
“The home run is when small businesses connect with each other, so the business that comes out of our district stays in our district, or at least some portion of it does,” said Diller.
Peter Arndsten, who is the district manager for the Columbus-Amsterdam Business Improvement District and has lived on the Upper West Side for 30 years, said he too has noticed a change in the community.
“There’s been a constant opening of new businesses,” said Arndsten of the past 10 years. He mentioned that the BID’s restaurant guide needs to be updated and reprinted at least twice a year. “We could do it more often but it would be cost-prohibitive.”
Arndsten said the Columbus Amsterdam BID is also working with businesses and real estate brokers to bill the neighborhood to their customers as Bloomingdale.
“It makes it easier to identify where you are,” said Arndsten. “Right noWestthis area gets bounced between Morningside Heights, Manhattan Valley, Upper West Side, and not everybody agrees on any of it.”
Arndsten believes the Upper West Side has much more foot traffic than it did in the past.
“You want to bring people in and have them walking the street,” said Arndsten. “We’ve done a number of things to make that happen; the whole area is much more pleasant to walk in.”
Rosa Sanchez is a licensing expert that works on behalf of restaurants, cafes, bars, grocery stores and other establishments who hire her to guide them through the application process at the city and state level of opening or continuing a business in NYC. With 15 years of experience working in all five boroughs and Long Island, Sanchez said working with a community board is like walking a “tightrope” where the slightest misstep can derail the process.
“The thing is with CB7 is that they’re among the best of the bunch because they get it,” said Sanchez. “They know that strong communities need great businesses and strong businesses need great communities.”
Sanchez said CB7 does a great job of balancing the community’s needs with business interests looking to come into the area.
“They’re very tough,” said Sanchez of CB7. “They’re smart, they’re savvy, but they’re also fair. They always give my client an opportunity to be heard.”
That process seems to be working well on the Upper West Side. According to Arndsten, since the beginning of 2013, new establishments have opened or are preparing to open along Columbus Ave. on the Upper West Side. SheShe Pizza expects to open at 107th and Columbus and Birch Coffee at 96th and Columbus opened in the last year. Lura, at 106th and Columbus, has been open for a little more than a year and just received a permit to operate a sidewalk cafe. These restaurants join Thai Market, which opened in 2007 at Amsterdam and 107th St., and hundreds of others.
“Whenever there’s a sidewalk cafe that opens up here it’s positive for the street life,” said Arndsten. “We’ve gone from having just a couple of places to where we now have more than half-a-dozen and that’s a really positive development.”
Marc Glazer said there’s about five applications currently before CB7’s Business and Consumer Issues Committee for either new businesses, sidewalk cafe permits or liquor licenses.
For CB7 chair Mark Diller, small businesses are the engines for creating good jobs on the Upper West Side. “I think our current crop of board members recognize that sustainable communities require sustainable small businesses,” said Diller. “Working in a small business is a great incentive to open your own small business, it actually perpetuates itself.”
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