Up and down Bayonne, but specifically at the main entry points at the northern and southern tips of the peninsula, as well as Route 440, the main eastside roadway that connects them, business owners have started to lobby the Bayonne Chamber of Commerce and the city administration for help to stay solvent.
For the Winners off-track betting parlor and companion McLoone’s Bayonne Grille, the Bayonne Bridge construction has had devastating consequences: half of their clientele cannot get to the facility to wager or eat. Winners opened in 2012, and the bridge work started in November that year, according to Darin Zoccali, Meadowlands racing director who oversees Winners.
“It’s been a struggle, because nearly 50 percent of our customers come from Staten Island,” Zoccali said.
Winners goes the extra mile to lure Staten Islanders, including refunding tolls, providing a shuttle, and issuing betting vouchers to those with proof of S.I. residencies.
But these measures are all for naught on the days, and especially weekends, when the Bayonne Bridge is completely shut down. Winners officials say business is off 10 percent year to year, which they attribute that to the bridge work.
But Winners got some help right before the Kentucky Derby on May 2, when they pleaded their case to the Port Authority, and the Bayonne Chamber of Commerce and Mayor James Davis lobbied on their behalf. Instead of being closed from Friday, May 1, until midnight Saturday, May 2, the bridge reopened on Saturday morning and in time for race-watchers that afternoon and evening.
“With the Kentucky Derby we did almost $700,000 in business, more than $50,000 than any other day here ever,” Zoccali said. “And the bridge was open. That shows you how important the bridge is to our business.”
With the bridge crossable, Staten Islanders also patronize McLoone’s, on the Winners campus, because of Tim McLoone’s reputation as a restaurateur, particularly at the Jersey Shore, where many Staten Island residents visit. When McLoone’s does well, so does Winners.
Zoccali said that the reconstruction work at the other end of Bayonne, at Turnpike Interchange 14A, also hurts his business.
“Now you’re getting hit either way you come,” he said. “You can’t come off the Bayonne Bridge, but the turnpike is inaccessible as well. You’re damned no matter which way you try to go.”
For now, Winners officials are trying to be positive. They are looking forward to the running of the Preakness, the second leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown, this Saturday, May 16. The Port Authority has said the bridge will be open.
At Bridgeview Liquors, across the highway from Winners, the reconstruction projects have also had a devastating effect.
When the Port Authority’s “Raise the Roadway” Bayonne Bridge project began, Bridgeview saw a 20-percent decrease in sales per month. But now with the daytime closings of the bridge, the store is losing 50 percent, according to owner Cliff Gennarelli.
“It’s brutal; it’s just brutal,” he said.
Gennarelli has had to lay off about half his staff in the last several months. While he had employed 13 to 14 workers less than a year ago, he’s now down to seven.
The bridge work has been “horrible” for his business because he has many customers from Brooklyn and Staten Island who come here for alcohol, gas, and cigarettes because the prices in New Jersey are much lower than in New York. But when the bridge is closed, they stay home. Seniors will not come now for fear of getting stuck in traffic on the Bayonne side of the bridge.
Help has come from the mayor’s office, so he is hopeful.
“I know it’s construction, but you’re messing with people’s lives – and their livelihoods,” Gennarelli said. “It doesn’t have to be done so that it destroys a lot of people.”
For Steve Teitel, owner of Elbaum’s Food Center near the corner of Dodge Street and Broadway, what’s happening to his business now is something he never anticipated 26 years ago when he purchased it.
He estimates his business is off 25 percent since the Raise the Roadway project started. An exit off the bridge onto Kennedy Boulevard, only a few blocks away, was closed and has been particularly harmful to Elbaum’s business. And an uptick in construction worker customers never materialized.
The bridge construction has had other deleterious effects.
Teitel can’t make runs for supplies as easily. And when the bridge is closed on weekends until 8 a.m., he must take the Goethals Bridge because he opens his store at 6 a.m. Then there’s the extra $6 a day in tolls using the alternate route.
“It’s brutal; it’s just brutal.” – Cliff Gennarelli
“The Port Authority has made my life tougher,” he said.
But an authority official said his agency is doing all it can to help business owners.
According to spokesman Rudy King, the Port Authority has a claims process in place for those experiencing personal and business losses.
“We have processed many already,” King said. “The one thing we can’t do is put through the claim without documentation. Fill out documents and we will process them.”
Following submission, an investigation is launched and then a decision is made on what can be done for the business owner.
“We really work to a do a thorough job with this,” King said. “We’re talking about the Bayonne community. And we want everything to be right.”
Joseph Passantino may be reached at JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.To comment on this story online visit www.hudsonreporter.com.