‘It’s Killing Us,’ Small Businesses Take a Hit as New Pipeline Construction Continues

‘It’s Killing Us,’ Small Businesses Take a Hit as New Pipeline Construction Continues
Construction on Moore Street between Humboldt Street and Graham Avenue. Rachel Baron/Bklyner.

NORTH BROOKLYN — Construction of a new National Grid pipeline that will run from Linden Boulevard in Brownsville to Newtown Creek in Greenpoint, is destroying local businesses in North Brooklyn.

The Metropolitan Reliability Infrastructure (MRI) project responsible for the disruption will cost at least $252 million and will “reinforce the backbone of the Brooklyn gas system,” National Grid states.

The construction of the pipeline began in 2017, and a recent construction update states, “beginning January 14, Moore Street will be closed to passenger cars between Humboldt Street and Graham Avenue from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday.” The update did not mention what date the construction was slated to end.

A few weeks ago, we reported on a Community Board 1 meeting in Williamsburg, where several dozen members of the Brooklyn community voiced their fears and frustration in response to the project, as well as to what many consider a minimal effort on National Grid’s part to inform the public in advance of construction.

The project, many community members complained, will only prolong the city’s reliance on natural gas and slow down efforts to pivot to renewable energy sources, like wind and solar. Opponents also argued that the project would put the communities along the construction route at risk, and would disrupt their lives significantly.

We set out to speak with some of the owners and managers of businesses on that section of Moore Street in Williamsburg to learn how they’ve been affected by the construction. We learned that most of these businesses are small, locally-owned shops and restaurants, and many have already suffered major financial losses in the two weeks since construction began.

“It’s killing us.”

The first business we spoke to was Victorino Cleaners at 107 Moore Street, owned and operated by Maria Hernandez. Through a translator, Hernandez told us that many of her customers drive in from other parts of Brooklyn, and cannot find parking due to the street closure.

Lenny Hernandez of Victorino Cleaners, with cat Linda. Rachel Baron/Bklyner.

The only notice Hernandez received prior to construction was a flyer announcing that it would begin on January 14 and end on February 14, taking place from Monday to Friday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. — not 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., as the update on the National Grid website, stated. (In a different version of the flyer sent to Senator Julia Salazar by National Grid, forwarded to Bklyner by Kim Fraczek of Sane Energy Project, the hours of street closure are also listed as 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.).

Hernandez said that a representative from National Grid dropped the flyer off on January 13 – one day before the construction began.

Instead of just handing her a flyer, Hernandez said she wished National Grid would have had a conversation with her – about how the construction would affect her business, and about whether they could offer her any solutions that might help offset the construction’s impact. They did none of this, Hernandez said.

The flyer lists a number that business owners can call for “additional questions and concerns.” Hernandez’ son Lenny, an employee at Victorino, said that he tried calling the number, but National Grid only reiterated the fact that construction would take place over the next month, and did not offer any additional information or support.

Lenny said that business has gone down almost 50% since January 14 – from 200 to 250 customers a week to roughly half that number.

“It’s been hard for us,” he said.

“That’s [Maria’s] living. Bills [are] still the same. They don’t go down. There’s no money coming in – the only thing is money going out.”

Things have gotten so bad that they’ve had to let one of their other employees go, and two others have been forced to take pay cuts. Compounding the problem, Lenny said, is the fact that National Grid will raise customers’ gas bills to support the project.

Lenny believes that National Grid could have, at the very least, given them more notice – then they could have warned their customers of the disruption.

Construction tape outside of La Finca grocery store. Rachel Baron/Bklyner.

Leicy, manager of La Finca grocery store at 101 Moore Street, also learned of the construction for the first time days before it started, she said. Like Hernandez, she was also notified by a flyer.

The construction has also affected her business – many of her customers access the store by car, and if they do come there to shop now, they’re forced to park on Graham Avenue and carry their bags all the way back. The store has lost more than $5,000 a week, she believes, a decrease she noticed immediately after construction began. Leicy hopes for some kind of compensation, but National Grid hasn’t yet offered her anything.

Next door at La Cocina, a restaurant at 100 Moore Street, employee Kirsy said they were also notified by flyer – about a month ago, she believes, though she can’t remember the exact date. Business has gone down significantly.

“It’s worse [than before construction],” she said. “You can see now.”

It was around lunchtime, and the restaurant was mostly empty, save for one customer – an unusual situation, Kirsy said. “Usually a lot of people come to eat around this time.”

Kirsy said that National Grid came twice – once to deliver the flyer, and then again to deliver the same flyer.

Another La Cocina employee, Juan, said that profits have decreased roughly $1,500 since construction began.

Radames and Adelaida Millan. Rachel Baron/Bklyner.

Radames Millan, who owns the general store Saint German Records at 89 Moore Street that’s been around for 53 years, said that the loss due to construction has been so severe that he feels he would be better off just closing the store.

“I’m making no money,” Millan said. His profits have sunk by close to 90%.

While the street is technically open to pedestrians, Millan said that customers are put off by the construction, and many avoid Moore Street altogether. He was first notified by flyer two or three days before construction began, he said.

“It’s killing us,” said his wife, Adelaida, who owns the store with him.

Manuel Rivera, the owner of Johnny Albino Music Center at 88 Moore Street for over 30 years, said that business has been down 70% or 80% from where it was before construction began.

“I sold nothing yesterday,” he said.

Other than the lack of parking, wood and other construction materials in front of his store make it difficult for people to come in. Rivera said that the same representative from National Grid has visited three times, the last two times to ask if everything has been okay for Rivera since construction began. Rivera simply told him that everything was fine — even if he mentioned the distress the construction was causing him, Rivera said, he couldn’t imagine that anything would come of it.

Junior Gonzalez. Rachel Baron/Bklyner.

Junior Gonzalez, who has owned P & R Variety Shop at 95 Moore Street for 23 years, said that he hadn’t done any business that day. “It’s killing us,” he said, mirroring the words of Adelaida Millan.

At 98 Moore Street, a hair and skincare company called O’Douds has been relatively unaffected by the construction. An employee, Clayton, told us that they’ve barely noticed a difference – they have no retail space, meaning they rely less on foot traffic and cars for business. Clayton also mentioned that construction workers allowed a large delivery truck to drive past the blockade and deliver goods to their store at one point.

The flyer Hernandez received stated that construction would take place between Humboldt Street and Manhattan Avenues between January 14 and February 14 (despite the update on the website stating that it would take place only on between Humboldt Street and Graham Avenue). We did not observe any construction taking place between Graham Avenue and Manhattan Avenue at the time we visited, at around 3 p.m. yesterday.

Construction on Moore Street between Humboldt Street and Graham Avenue. Rachel Baron/Bklyner.

National Grid Responds

In light of what we learned from these businesses, we reached out to National Grid for comments on what the schedule of construction is, and whether they planned on compensating those affected by the closure.

In an email to Bklyner, National Grid said that “typically, our first round of door-to-door notifications to the businesses and residents along the route takes place two weeks ahead of the start of construction on their block.”

National Grid also said that they “realize that some residents and businesses along the route may be inconvenienced while construction is taking place on their block,” and that they have a “dedicated community outreach team in place to address any concerns to minimize any disruption to their homes and businesses.”

We have reached out to the New York Department of Small Business Services (SBS) to learn whether they’re working to support businesses who have suffered financial losses as a result of the road closure and construction. We will update this article when we receive their response.