Columbus Avenue Business Owners Call for Visionary New Dining Plan; One Starts Prepping for Phase 3

By Charles Lyons

A cluster of Columbus Avenue business owners, reeling from months of revenue loss due to the pandemic, are calling on city officials for a radical new plan.

The idea is to open Columbus Avenue so that store owners can place their tables and chairs, not on the sidewalks, but in the street in front of their shops (and shuttered stores), where they will be allowed to sell wares almost like at a street fair. The plan calls for parking to be off limits and traffic to be reduced to two lanes. Proposals for bike and bus lane changes are still being fleshed out.

The idea was discussed during a walk-and-talk on Wednesday morning with politicians and business leaders. It started in front of the restaurant Harvest Kitchen, on 73rd and Columbus, and migrated north to 79th street. The walk included restaurant owners; Columbus Avenue Business Improvement District Executive Director, Nicole Paynter; and city officials including New York City Comptroller, Scott M. Stringer; Manhattan Borough President, Gail Brewer; New York State Assembly woman, Linda Rosenthal; and New York City Council woman, Helen Rosenthal.

“With what has been happening to New York City, particularly to the Upper West Side, particularly to Columbus Avenue, I wanted to come up with a way to help businesses,” said Jeremy Wladis, the orchestrator of the plan and a long-time Upper West Side restaurant owner, whose businesses include Harvest Kitchen, Brad’s Burgers & BBQ, and Good Enough To Eat – all on Columbus Avenue.

In a phone interview, Wladis said Wednesday’s meeting had gone exceptionally well. “This is the first time I’ve ever seen all the politicians and business owners in agreement like this,” he said, adding that in thirty years of owning restaurants on the Upper West Side he’s seen a lot. While Wladis allowed that some 11 city agencies would need to sign off on the plan, he’s optimistic. Next step: a Zoom call later in the week to flesh out details about such thorny issues as the bike and bus lanes.

“I know these restaurants need help,” said Brewer, speaking by phone. “I’m really supportive of all the creative ideas,” she added. But she cautioned that nothing has been decided. Whatever she and others come up with, she said, will serve as recommendations they will put in writing and take to the city.

Asked to comment on the new plan, Comptroller Stringer issued the following statement: “As our city moves toward the next phase of reopening, New York restaurants and businesses don’t have the guidance and support they need to succeed in the new reality. We need to do everything in our power to support our beloved small businesses.”

“The idea is great,” said Emile Akleh, owner of Mediterranean eatery, Sido, who has been in business in the neighborhood since 1999. “The exposure will be fantastic. Restaurant owners will be able to spread out their tables and chairs.

Bottom line – it invites people to come out, to sit and dine, and it opens doors, giving restaurants more space instead of less.”

For careful followers of such matters, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s “phase two” re-opening for New York City is tentatively scheduled for June 22 (per his Wednesday press conference), provided Mayor de Blasio doesn’t oppose the plan and attempt to overturn it. But on Wednesday, Asian-fusion neighborhood staple, Tenzan, on 74th and Columbus, was already open for outside seating as were many other venues – and some restaurant owners said they planned to open their outside spaces this weekend.

That underscores the widespread confusion, both on the part of business owners and with respect to the public, about the current rules for dining outside. And then there are those who know the rules but disregard them, which in some cases result in police fines.

 

For many business owners along Columbus Avenue, the proposed plan couldn’t come soon enough, given the level of loss. Lady Gaga’s father, Joseph Germanotta, owner of Joanne Trattoria on West 68th Street just West of Columbus, is among those anxious to try something new. In anticipation of the Governor Cuomo’s “phase three” mandate for half-capacity indoor dining, expected to go into effect some time in July, Germanotta has already re-configured his restaurant with plexiglass screens separating many of the tables.


Germanotta at Joanne’s.


Tables with plexiglass.

While Wladis hopes his Columbus Avenue plan moves forward, he stressed that he’d like to see other streets and avenues pursue similar out-of-the-box ideas. “I’m for helping every small business in New York City,” he said. “The city will not be the city if we can’t survive.”

FOOD, NEWS | 44 comments | permalink
    1. CCL says:

      Hear! Hear! Broken record alert. We need our restaurants and small businesses to thrive or there will no longer be an UWS.

      Al fresco dining into expanded street access is the best way to get businesses back during the summer/fall season while affording distancing for diners, shoppers and pedestrians.

    2. Michal says:

      I love this idea. Hopefully it could be done in a way that would let Broadway and Amsterdam restaurants participate also

    3. jhminnyc says:

      So how do you eat with a mask on? Is everyone in the kitchen wearing a mask in all that kitchen heat and not shouting at one another? Who’s policing that?

      • Molly says:

        I agree! Kitchens can be dangerous right now and we need to know what restaurants are doing in that regard.

    4. gigimail says:

      And having a face covering below the chin is not considered wearing a face covering. Another example of disrespecting the rules and what continues and what is to come.

    5. gigi says:

      And having a face covering below the chin is not considered wearing a face covering. Another example of disrespecting the rules and what continues and what is to come.

    6. Toni says:

      The proposed Columbus Ave outdoor dining plan sounds great, but would someone please also consider the effects on residents nearby? The noise from stand-up gatherings outside Columbus restaurants at night is already disturbing our peace. Please require that diners leave and disburse by 10 PM, when NYC quiet hours begin (by law). Special consideration for ALL parties is needed during this stressful pandemic.

    7. AB says:

      If businesses don’t come back to the UWS there will be no reason to stay here in a vast wasteland of empty boarded up streets. Have to find a way and this seems the best start for right now. Let’s be positive and support our neighborhood.

    8. Rodger Lodger says:

      There’s a Fellini film (I think it’s Fellini) where the restaurant diners in the street are close to trolley tracks that sweep by. A great image.

    9. Brandon says:

      The mayor has done this citywide but I don’t see anything about bike lanes.
      https://www1.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/pedestrians/openrestaurants.shtml

    10. sg says:

      As a former UWS resident I wish them good luck, but 11 city agencies needing to “sign off”…that is ridiculous. In addition to high operating costs over regulation is a primary reason small businesses in NYC are under attack.

    11. JS says:

      A bit confused….
      the street access benefits restaurants that happen to be on the avenue?
      Does not help restaurants or businesses which are situated elsewhere?
      On side streets?

      Is that not unfair?

    12. Robert Field says:

      Perhaps they would be better off putting the tables on the sidewalk and creating a pedestrian path in the street. Far more efficient and less fumes for the diners.

      • lynn says:

        I agree, that’s a much better idea. Fumes aside, if the tables are in the street and pedestrians remain on the sidewalk it would cause a real logistics problem for the servers. Plus, do we really want to start reconfiguring bus routes at this point when people (not only restaurant employees) are potentially returning to work?

    13. Mark Moore says:

      So dining next to traffic?

    14. Madd Donna says:

      Horrible idea! It will not be safe for diners to sit at tables on the street. Has anyone factored in car fumes and car accidents?? Recently, another SUV toppled onto the median on corner of Columbus & 74th taking down a tree, plants and landed on top of a parked car!! Can’t people just be patient?? And where are we supposed to walk if the restaurants take over the sidewalks AND the streets? Not one comments here about SAFETY!!

    15. isitreally2020? says:

      All of this is so difficult to comprehend. We are changing modern day civilization for EVERYONE only to protect the FEW. It just doesn’t add up to me.

      • joe_the_accountant says:

        Thank you for your common sense comment “@isitreally2020?”. Unfortunately common sense isn’t so common any more – especially around here.

    16. Al Fresco says:

      It really doesn’t matter what configuration. Sidewalk tables and pedestrians in street lanes, or whatever works best as long as businesses can open.

      Do you all think any business can survive if we wait for a vaccine? Say goodbye to the UWS.

    17. NYer says:

      It’s a residential neighborhood. Closing off the street to parking and vehicular traffic will make deliveries harder and cram the streets with unmasked people. People visiting family still need a place to park. Considering the older age demographic of the UWS, that’s something to think about. The senior citizen population needs to feel safe going out for errands and not feel trapped in their homes and then if they want deliveries that will also be a problem. Cant go out and cant get deliveries. Small businesses definitely need a boost. But some creative thinking is required to prevent creating a new problem while fixing another, while being fair to businesses on the side streets as well. Everyone is hurting and high capacity seating will not come back for a while. Empty for rent spaces might need to be rented out for multiple space and shared use and will allow seating regardless of the weather.

      • CJ says:

        What??? Nobody said streets would be totally closed to traffic. Just a lane next to the sidewalk. Yikes.

      • MM says:

        Have you taken a walk around the neighborhood lately? It’s depressing. Few businesses left.

        Under this plan, streets will still be open for vehicular traffic and deliveries and parking spaces will still be on side streets. So not closing streets completely.

        If there are no income generating businesses in this area of NYC, there will be no reason to live here. But. I guess you can walk around or ride around empty streets and order in from Fresh Direct.

      • TTnyc says:

        Yes, let’s kill off our UWS businesses in order to preserve parking spaces for visitors.

    18. MaryC says:

      How does this work when there are restaurants on both sides of the street? And and someone else said, what about those on side streets?
      I would also have more respect for the idea if the owner of Harvest Kitchen did not illegally set a full outdoor seating area weeks ago. We need solutions for our small businesses, but also to protect the safety of outdoor diners and to allow plenty of room for those non diners who want to social distance on their own sidewalks

      • CCL says:

        Enjoy your safe travels through the empty neighborhood.

        Don’t people get it? It’s a tipping point for the survival of the UWS.

        • stevieboy says:

          Excuse me but I think it’s you that doesn’t get it.

          The UWS isn’t going anywhere and neither am I. Stop with the drama OK. When did people become so fragile and alarmist.

          Of course we are all going through a very tough time but people like you aren’t helping by acting like panicky adolescents.

    19. jsf says:

      Good! good! good!

    20. John says:

      How will they serve food to the street without blocking sidewalk? Some one Could walk buy and cough in you food.

    21. ZoomZ says:

      Terrible idea.
      you sit IN the street. Two lanes of traffic by your table and food. You need a mask to avoid dying from gas inhalation. Possible accidents – cars and tables.
      I get the eating places need a break, but this really sucks.
      Wait for phase 4 in July or August and eat inside.

    22. BJK says:

      We will be well in to the winter months before anyone in government gets into gear and takes action on this proposal.

    23. ST says:

      Columbus Avenue is a major thoroughfare and cannot afford any more lane reductions. This is a terrible idea. Close the bike lane to bikes and turn it into a pedestrian path.

    24. JS says:

      To be fair to all small businesses, stores and restaurants (not just help some which are situated on avenues) shouldn’t NYC just reduce taxes for all?
      Institute commercial rent freeze?

      Big chains like Shake Shack and Sweetgreen will get the same benefit as a small independent place like longtime neighborhood restaurant Pappardella?

      Also, IMO figuring out what happens to buses, bus flow and bus stops is more than a “thorny” detail….buses are a fundamental transportation need and must be a priority over restaurant seating.

      • PaulCons says:

        JS, it’s much the same regarding housing expenses. I am a board member in a co-op so I know what it takes to run a multi-unit dwelling. Over the past 5-6 years, the ONLY significant increase in expenses is taxes. Absent that, over that period of time we may have needed 1% maintenance increase.

      • Buss Ryder says:

        THANK YOU!
        YES, busses ARE essential for those of us on mobility-scooters or powered wheel-chairs.
        Sure, we’d love to use the much-faster subway but CANNOT (lack of elevators, height-difference of train-car and platform, crowding, etc.).
        But it’s going to be hard to access the bus ramp if tables&chairs are on the sidewalk and in the way.

    25. Lydia says:

      Great idea!
      I think they should permanently turn Columbus Avenue into a large pedestrian lane, fill the center of it with trees and benches, and encourage all restaurants to have lots of outdoor seating.

      And for God’s sake – get rid of all the empty store fronts! If landlords leave properties vacant for more than 6 months they should be required to fill them with popup art galleries and other small businesses at cut rents. No more ghost town Upper West Side.

    26. West Ender says:

      And how will those who are in wheelchairs or have strollers pass by if the restaurants are spilling over onto the street?

      Ironic, also, that the commenters on this blog regularly complain about street fairs blocking the streets all summer but are all for this. It smacks of classicism, among other things.

    27. FY says:

      Where do pedestrians go in this vision? Is there a pedestrian walkway where pedestrians can walk at least 6 feet away from diners (not the table but where the chairs actually end once everyone is seated)? Such walkway would have to demarcated and maintained so restaurants don’t “accidentally” expand into that space). As a pedestrian I don’t want to have to wend my way around masses of unmasked diners as I run my errands in the neighborhood.

    28. Tessa is opening outdoor dining tonight and Asset will open for outdoor dining on Wednesday night. First come and 75 minutes max. seating time.