How the West was won, in Chelsea

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Mechanics working on cabs at Mike's Auto off 30th Street and 11th avenue. Photo: James K. Williamson

Inside Mike’s Auto Service off 30th Street and 11th avenue. Photo: James K. Williamson.

A pocket of stores along west 30th Street between 10th and 11th avenues, at the intersection of the second and third phases of the High Line, is suffering much like old Western towns that were bypassed by trains and interstates. “Business slowed down when people exited over at 34th Street,” said Molack Yosseph, who sells hot dogs and pretzels from under an orange “snap dog” umbrella five to six days a week at 30th Street. “It’s better over there than here.”

Phase three hooks around Hudson Yards’ 28-acre development, while phase two ended at about the 30th Street green-windowed elevator and stairs, and that boosted revenues for businesses along 30th Street. When phase three finished at 34th, revenues at 30th Street decreased, and development is still not over. At a recent meeting, High Line reps unveiled a previously unseen design for the Spur, the High Line’s spacious and elevated nub where phase two and phase three meet at 30th Street and 10th avenue.

“Like I say, they get this far and finish it out,” said Sammy Sanchez, manager at Hamptons Market Place, referring to the phase three extension. “It was 10 percent loss when they did that.” Sanchez’s cluttered store is tucked inside the OHM apartment building on the corner of 11th avenue and 30th Street. He has four and a half years left on the lease with Clinton Management, which had “no comment” in response to a request for information.

“But the High Line gave us another problem: the bathroom.” Sanchez stood behind the counter and pointed to the store’s bathroom, obscured by a ladder going up to a storage closet. He said that utility bills have spiked from $700 to $1,100. “People come in, hello, how are you? Bathroom. They don’t buy anything, but I’m not going to argue with the customer. Technology these days,” he said referring to the fear of a negative Yelp review.

Rent increases five percent each year for Hamptons and for the liquor store around the corner. There’s no cap, according to Kirit Kothari, manager of Wine, Spirits and Champagne. “Each year there’s a five percent increase. That’s it,” he said. The best-selling spirit in the store is wine, and tourist customers are rare compared to locals.  Since the High Line’s completion to 34th Street, he has seen a 10 to 15 percent decrease as well. “I cannot say anything about the future of the business or about moving until six months before the lease ends. This will be a different area in five years. People will not recognize it, you know?”

The almost-completed 10 Hudson Yards Tower looms overhead. It’s the 52-story future home of Retail Coach Inc., the North American Headquarters of L’Oreal USA and SAP, who move in this March, and the first of many developments in the $20 billion Hudson Yards operation led by Real Estate Recovery Fund and Oxford Properties Group. Construction engulfs the blocks from 30th and 34th Street and spills out its walled-in areas to the street. Across 11th avenue a big red Pedowitz truck backs a trailer into the 30th Street Gate 2 while mechanics at Mike’s Auto Service move a customer’s Subaru out of the way of the heavy hauler’s path.

The former Revolution Rickshaws store and shop at Dyer and 10th avenue. The space was used from 2008 until last August. Photo: James K. Williamson

The former Revolution Rickshaws shop at Dyer and 10th avenue. The space was used from 2008 until last August. Photo: James K. Williamson.

“The High Line is not doing any damage but the construction is slowing us down,” said Ben Fall, a body mechanic at Mike’s. which has been there for about eight years. “If they can’t come around here this way, they have to go around again,” he circled his finger in the air. “Construction is messing with our time, there’s nothing we can do about it.” Mike’s Auto is one of the last auto-repair shops in the district. Shops like the Tire Shop, Poppy’s, Bear Auto and Brownfeld Auto Service are no more. “We’re $95 whereas dealerships charge $150,” said part-time manager Evens Anozine. “Because parking is different now, we have to get in, get out. We provide quality service and good turnaround. Most of the others got bought out so they can build high rises.” And this is true of Revolution Rickshaws, a trike or pedicab delivery service, that for seven years inhabited a 3500-square-foot Kelly green office on Dyer avenue between 30th and 31 streets off 10th avenue.

“My impression is that folks want to tear down and more aggressively monetize a site,” said Gregg Zuman, owner of Revolution Rickshaws. His landlord sold to Arisa Realty Co., which intends to build a 35-story hotel. “Everyone in industrial work or anybody who’s trying to provide an industrial service like repair shops, the horse carriage guys, there’s just nowhere to go anymore, at least not on the street. Everyone’s leaving, unless you bought the place, and even if you bought it, you get an insanely high offer.” Zuman downsized staff and relocated to Gotham Mini Storage at 39th Street and 10th Avenue and moved some equipment upstate. It’s a micro-work space for maintenance. The rickshaws are kept at garage spaces and carparks about 10 blocks from the ministorage.

He’s not certain whether the High Line affected business. Most customers discovered the store by driving by it into the Lincoln Tunnel. “We were certainly generating revenue but our business is very up and down. Sales were around $400,000. We could’ve built a lot out of that place but we had to move.

“It’s all about quote unquote luxury housing. People are talking about green this, sustainable that, but they’re getting rid of the local semi-industrial economy,” he said. “A diverse economy would retain an industrial economy within itself. Now you’re supposed to go to New Jersey or Queens if you want to operate a small business for a small community. It’s the antithesis of resiliency.”