“WHILE THE CITY SLOWLY REBUILDS WASHINGTON STREET PLEASE STOP IN AND SHOP LOCALLY. WE WILL REMAIN OPEN.”
The banners outside Eugene Flinn’s Elysian Cafe at 1001 Washington Street echo the sentiments of business owners citywide, as the tourniquet of road work on Hoboken’s main artery has cut off the flow of economic lifeblood for far too long—causing irreparable damage to retail and hospitality in the once-vibrant Mile Square.
“I understand that it has to be done,” says Flinn, who operates several businesses in uptown Hoboken, including Schnackenberg’s Luncheonette, “but it has been done to the detriment of people who have invested their life savings into a business in this town.”
Hoboken’s infrastructure has been making headlines lately, with a series of devastating water main breaks disrupting life in general. These events are on top of the ongoing redesign of Washington Street. Hoboken’s main thoroughfare, Washington Street was named as the best downtown in North Jersey, as recently as 2014. However, a lapse in maintenance while preparing a redesign left the street in desperate shape. The effort to restore Washington Street has itself become disjointed, with repairs now expected to last well into 2019.
“It wasn’t coordinated,” says Flinn. “It’s taken way too long, cost more money and there have been hidden problems along the way. Meanwhile, the City underestimated the effect this project would have on small business.”
Earlier this week, HobokenGirl.com took a comprehensive look at the factors that have resulted in a large number of business closings in Hoboken. Steadily increasing rents are certainly a factor, as commercial tenants in Hoboken are under extreme pressure to keep a roof over their brick and mortar.
“I have not seen any empirical data to support the assumption in this question,” Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla told HobokenGirl.com, when asked about the spike in closures in town. “Needless to say, however, it’s sad to see businesses close in Hoboken, especially ones that have been around for decades, and there’s not one single factor. Rising rent prices, online sales, and changes in popular trends can hit businesses hard. But at the same time, we’re not seeing an abnormally high rate of closures. The market is cyclical. Stores, restaurants, salons, and other businesses are opening all the time in Hoboken, and that’s heartening to see.”
Nevertheless, business owners say the construction factors can’t be ignored. “People say they don’t want to see chains in town, but they’re the only ones who can survive in this environment,” says Flinn. “It’s nice to see them come in, but the small mom-and-pop outfits can’t weather the storm like these national chains.”
In a town like Hoboken flow is everything—water flow, traffic flow, and foot traffic flow. In The New York Times‘ report on the water main breaks, they spoke with the manager of the Dunkin’ Donuts on Hudson place. “‘Nothing, nobody comes in,'” said Shermi Patel, the manager who has worked there since 2005. “No coffee.”
We would like thank all of the first responders in #Hoboken who work tirelessly to partner with us for public safety. The support of @HobokenPD @HobokenFire @HobokenOEM @HobokenVol_EMS @PANYNJ as well as local residents and business owners truly displays the best of #Hoboken
— SUEZ Water NJ (@SUEZwaterNJ) August 31, 2018
Down the block from Flinn’s Elysian Cafe, Vito’s Deli has seen business drop around 40% over the last year and a half.
“It’s been a huge thorn in my side,” says owner Vito Buzzerio, of the ongoing construction. “If it weren’t for our corporate catering, I don’t know what we’d do.”
Vito’s Deli has been at 806 Washington Street since 1986. “We’re established, family-owned and thankfully I have a great staff, so we’re weathering the storm,” says Buzzerio, “but I really hope the city finishes as fast as it can.”
On top of the road work, the parking issue in Hoboken remains a difficult one to navigate.
“I feel guilty, because my customers are always getting parking tickets,” says Buzzerio. “I even named a sandwich ‘the Double-Park’ (EDITOR’S NOTE: South Philly-style roast pork with broccoli rabe, provolone, garlic spread and balsamic glaze).” Recently, the City of Hoboken has increased its fines for double-parking, to include a mandatory court appearance.
Like many local business owners, Buzzerio wishes the City would be a little more pragmatic when dealing with commercial interests. “I’ve been told I can’t have signage out during the construction, I can’t have my outdoor cafe. I just wish they’d throw us a bone,” he says. “Maybe reduce the tax rate, offer some sort of special services, put some funding into marketing, and help us put up with this nonsense.”
According to Mayor Bhalla, “we are initiating an information gathering initiative specifically with business owners on Washington Street this September. With this initiative, staffers at City Hall, including myself, will be going business-to-business on Washington Street to identify their most challenging issues and determine what the City can do to help make the upcoming holiday season as prosperous as possible. And, of course, the steady progress along Washington Street is helping to revitalize the area.”
As the summer comes to a close, Hoboken will continue to face difficulties. Impending lawsuits on the water main breaks signal no immediate solution. Washington Street remains unfinished, while Rte. 495 work cuts off Hoboken’s northern access and weekend PATH closures seal off flow on the southern end.
For now, Eugene Flinn will stick to flying his banners.
“A city with over 50,000 people in one square mile, businesses should be doing better than they are,” says Flinn. “It’s Labor Day Weekend, but it’s gonna rain. You’re better off hanging out here in Hoboken. We’ll be open.”