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Willets Point shops scramble for new home

Workers replace the windscreen of a car at one of Willets Point's many auto repair shops. Photo by Alex Robinson
TimesLedger Newspapers

Many Willets Point business owners have been left without a home after they surrendered their auto shops’ properties to meet a deadline that passed last weekend.

Dozens of auto repair shops and junk yards that have occupied the blighted area for decades have been pushed out in order to make room for the first phase of a $3 billion redevelopment, which will transform Willets Point into a new neighborhood with a mega mall.

The city offered businesses a payment worth six months’ rent if they agreed to sign a settlement that they would leave by Jan. 31. The city planned to take their keys Monday.

Martha Gualotuna has owned her store, Emanual Corp., which fixes and paints cars, for more than 10 years. She was the last shop on her row to stay until the last day.

She signed a settlement agreeing to move her business in exchange for a payment worth six months of her rent, but she said she felt pressured by the city’s lawyer to sign. She said she was also worried she might later lose her business to the city in court and leave with nothing.

She packed up her belongings and shut the doors of her business for the last time last Friday, forced to move what she could into storage with no new location to relocate to.

“It’s very hard. I didn’t want this day to come,” she said.

She said she does not know what her next step will be as she has little money to start a new business and has little hope of finding a new job as an undocumented immigrant from Ecuador.

Gualotuna is far from alone in her predicament since more than 40 business owners who make up part of the Sunrise Co-op, a group trying to move together, have had their relocation stalled as the group’s organizers have scrambled to sign a lease on a large warehouse space in the Bronx.

Marco Neira, one of the group’s organizers, said the landlord needs to clarify a few small issues before the co-op can sign the lease. The group plans to lease 82,000 square feet of a 142,000-square-foot warehouse in Hunts Point and will need to divide the space with a wall.

“Until we figure out those issues, we won’t sign the lease,” he said.

Neira said all of the co-op’s members in the Phase 1 area surrendered their businesses’ properties Jan. 31. He said preparing the new space, if and when the lease is signed, could take up to four months.

Arturo Olaya, president of the Willets Point Defense Committee, which represents tenant businesses, said the new space is too far for business owners to commute, the majority of whom live in Queens. He also doubted whether businesses will be able to draw enough customers to thrive in the new location.

“How will people survive over there? Our customers are here,” Olaya said. “People here don’t want to compete with the junkers in Hunts Point.”

Olaya said he sent a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio asking him to help negotiate a deal to relocate businesses en masse to a location in Queens.

As the Jan. 31 deadline approached, the city Economic Development Corp. said more than 50 businesses had been relocated from the Phase 1 area or were close to doing so.

The city offered businesses a supplemental payment worth 12 months’ rent if they left by the end of November. Now that the supplemental payments have expired, the EDC said businesses can still qualify to have their relocation costs paid for by the city.

Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at arobinson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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Reader Feedback

Joe Moretti from Jamaica says:
Maybe they can come out to the wild wild west of Jamaica, where anything goes, chop shops galore anywhere, auto body shops in residential areas spilling chemicals all over and parking their smashed up cars on sidewalks and all over, while our local elected leaders totally ignore this dire situation and do nothing what-so-ever.

Probably our leaders are all on the take that they would allow such a thing to happen in the black community, because if this was a white community, it certainly would not be taking place.

Read my story about one thug chop shop in the St. Albans area of Jamaica, Deputy Borough President's Comrie's home turf.

http://cleanupjamaicaqueens.wordpress.com/2014/02/02/st-albans-thug-auto-chop-shop-takes-over-streets-and-threatens-residents/
Feb. 7, 6:34 am

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