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.
Madeline Virbasiuis, the manager of Jumelle boutique, also endorses the idea of a one-day event, as long as it involves more participation from local businesses.
“Shops should participate in a way that draws people into the businesses instead of having a fair in the street,” said Virbasius.
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.
©2010 Community News Group
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