frank stella
An image from a postcard that Frank Stella Clothiers just sent to its customers.

By Carol Tannenhauser

First, it was Ocean Grill, then, Cardeology; two UWS classics that went out of business after spending years stuck under scaffolding and sidewalk sheds, aka “bridges,” that blocked them from public view. Now, another neighborhood favorite is determined to avoid the same fate.

John Hellings, owner of Frank Stella Clothiers, on 81st street and Columbus Avenue, says the scaffolding and warm winter weather have left him with “a mountain of unsold merchandise.” He’s not sitting around bemoaning the sidewalk shed that has been obscuring his storefront and windows since last April, lowering his monthly sales by about 18%, he says. Nor is he passing on his pain to his customers. On the contrary, Hellings is holding his – perhaps, the – first-ever “Scaffolding Sale.” Through March 31, items in the store are selling for up to 70% off.

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It could become a trend; scaffolding and sidewalk sheds are so ubiquitous in New York City, they seem part of the architecture. The construction and renovation boom is contributing, but the main cause is Local Law 11, passed by the City Council in 1998, requiring that all facades of buildings over six stories be inspected every five years, not just “visually,” as Local Law 10 had allowed, but “hands-on,” requiring scaffolding, requiring sidewalk sheds. And so, “there are now nearly 9,000 of these sheds entombing city streets,” according to Crain’s.

Make no mistake, we need them. Falling pieces of buildings kill, as was the case with that poor toddler, sitting with her grandmother on an UWS stoop last May. It was that kind of tragic accident that triggered the passage of the local legislation in the first place. But why do those sidewalk sheds stay up for so long, often, it seems, with no work going on above them?

Lawrence M. Shapiro, Construction/Real Estate Consultant, emailed an analysis:

“When it comes to an existing building, generally, a building owner’s goals are to erect and remove the bridge in an economical and timely manner. But there are many factors that affect the length of time the bridge is required to remain in place.

“Repairs must be filed with and approved by the Department of Buildings (DOB) and many times with the Department of Transportation (DOT) and/or the MTA, sometimes delaying projects for weeks and months. Once the repair work is approved, further delays may be caused by: scheduling issues (i.e., ordering special materials and working around the building tenancy’s needs); Mother Nature (i.e., masonry repairs require temperatures of 40 degrees F and rising, and there are often rain and wind delays); and dealing with unforeseen conditions during the course of the repair work (i.e., replacement of deteriorated structural and/or cosmetic components of the building’s façade and/or roofing systems).

“Although most owners are incentivized to complete the applicable repair work and have the bridging removed expeditiously (to mitigate negative impact on the livelihood of the retail tenancy and/or maintain goodwill with the residential tenancy), there are some instances in which certain owners choose to leave a bridge in place as long as possible, even if that means paying fines, in order to defer costly repairs indefinitely.”

New York State Assemblymember Deborah Glick attributed more nefarious motives to some landlords.

“…it does sometimes appear that [sheds are] being used as a vehicle for driving people…out of their homes, or businesses [into giving up] their leases,” she said, in an interview with Chelsea Now, which went on to report that “bills now in the State Senate and Assembly would mandate that extensions to sidewalk shed permits be granted only when the scaffolding was actively used for at least 10 days every month in the previous year.”

But, as we all know from middle school, it takes a long time for a bill to become a law. Meanwhile, John Hellings is acting as his own advocate. His scaffolding sale shines a light on what can become an insurmountable problem for small business owners. He calls for community support of scaffolded stores and restaurants, and, he says, a rent adjustment wouldn’t hurt.

Below, see the text of the postcard John Hellings sent out.

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NEWS | 9 comments | permalink
    1. Tom G says:

      I don’t mean to be a cynic and I feel for the businesses hurt by the scaffolding.
      But Frank Stella is literally ALWAYS having a sale.
      It sort of demeans the idea of a sale, no?

    2. keith says:

      I know, right? It seems like their regular business model is to have one price on the sticker and relatively annoying color coded sale concept. It would mean so much more if they just put the correct price on the tag and had a clearance rack like normal folks.

      Although, still stinging from the exit of Ocean Grill.

      Despite some posters here, I am all for nicer stores and restaurants being successful on the UWS.

    3. Alta says:

      You beat me to it, was about to say that Frank Stella is always having a sale.

      Really nice stuff though, I’ve bought plenty.

    4. Glen says:

      What would be a lot nicer is if the city required the scope work be done within a certain period of time. If scaffolding stays up longer than that, absent exigent circumstances, the building is fined. Some of these buildings have had scaffolding around them longer than it took them to be built in the first place. (The building on the west side of 85th/Amsterdam springs to mind).

    5. adam says:

      This issue has bothered me for a long time. Scaffolding goes up and in some cases it’s left there for years, often with no workers ever in sight. The city and local community board needs to take action on this. There needs to be stricter limits and regulations in place governing this.

    6. SG says:

      I totally agree with Glen and Adam…scaffolding should come down promptly once the required work is done. I’m no fan of government regulation (which is excessive), but this is one area its 0oversight is needed.

    7. Big Earl says:

      The scaffolding on our building was left up for 5 years. 5 years!!! A few reasons for the hold up, but the biggest was our board and the board president were idiots. Their decisions and incompetence contributed to about 3 extra years of scaffolding.

    8. Marci says:

      They manage in Europe to maintain their buildings without scaffolding languishing for years on end. They’re a huge eyesore and absolutely impact the businesses stuck with them.

    9. Stuart says:

      Scaffolding is temporary? Please check the scaffolding around the corner from Fairway on West 74 St. Those first few brownstone buildings have been hidden by scaffolding for years, with no visible work being done. Does anyone have any info on this eyesore?