Hub crowds are asked to take a load off

SoBRO and the transportation dept. plan to bring outdoor seating for customers at three busy corners later this summer. Businesses and residents seem split on whether it’s a great idea or a flop.

The Hub
150th Street and Westchester Ave., one of three spots SoBRO and the transportation dept. want to promote outdoor seats and tables for local customers.

Outdoor seating planned at three busy intersections

The Hub is one of the Bronx’s busiest intersections; a place where drivers and pedestrians converge throughout the day en route to their homes, jobs, shopping destinations and many places in between. But one local group wants to slow down the hustle and bustle just a bit, and prompt the crowds to stop and take a deep breath.

The neighborhood development organization, SoBRO, is partnering with the city’s Department of Transportation to bring Street Seats to the area. Through the initiative, local restaurants and cafes would be encouraged to put tables and chair on sidewalks in front of their businesses for customers in three spots: 150th/Westchester Ave., 149th/Third Ave., and 149th/Melrose. SoBRO hopes the program will be in effect later this summer.

In all, more than 60 seats would be made available at the three proposed locations.

“It will change the stereotypes of the Bronx,” said Jamila Diaz, SoBRO’s assistant vice president of business services. “It can be a place of leisure.”

The Hub is not just an important axis for commuters, said Diaz, pointing out that more than 20,000 people work within its few blocks, and they would benefit from more inviting options to grab a bite.

Juan Veras, a server at McDonalds on 149th between Third and Westchester avenues, said he would love to spend his 30-minute lunch break sitting outdoors.

“It would be nice to get outside,” he said wistfully, stretching his arm out through the window where he takes people’s orders.

“It would bring more patience here,” said resident Davonda Lee. Others say that, along with creating a place for older residents, parents and their kids and weary straphangers, sidewalk seating could make the area more aesthetically pleasing.

But some worry that local businesses, who have long complained that commercial rents in the Hub are too high, will be reluctant to spend their own money to help make the program work. They would be responsible for all expenses and activities pertaining to the program, such as purchasing the seats and tables, as well as putting them outside at the start of the day and bringing them in before closing.

Others argue the area is too congested. When SoBRO representatives met with Community Board 1 in the spring to seek local approval for the proposal, board members were skeptical. They argued that the intersection at 149th and Third is already too frenetic, and they were guarded about the other two locations as well.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” said Nilo Abrau, who operates a coffee and donuts truck at 149th and Third. “Even when I get here at 6 in the morning, it’s too crowded. Why would anyone want to sit here?”

Others say the heavy concentration of patients from surrounding drug rehabilitation clinics would deter would-be customers from relaxing with a cup of coffee or a meal.

“The shelters around here don’t give enough help, so all of those people will be here instead,” said Marilyn Jimenez, an employee at Electronics and Appliances in the Hub. “And nobody wants that.”

“There’s no space and its going to attract the crack heads,” said Abdul Salam, an employee at ALC 99¢ & more.

Some point to street seats on 125th Street in Harlem, which they say have become magnets for drug users.

“It’s the reaction of the merchants and property owners that I’d be concerned about,” said Steven Fish, director of the Third Ave. Business Improvement District. “Loitering has been an issue in the past.”

But although some said outdoor seating in the Hub can never work the way it does at Manhattan hot spots like Herald Square and Bryant Park, others disagreed. Some said the plan could even help propel business.

“I think it’s an excellent idea,” said Osvaldo Martinez, who manages a pizza joint. “It would help 90% of the Hub’s businesses. If people are on the go, they walk right through the sales but if they feel comfortable, they’ll observe more and then buy more.”

“It would benefit the stores because people could take a stop, and then keep shopping,” said Lenny Caro, president of the Bronx Chamber of Commerce, who added that private security officers would help ensure that participating businesses’ customers are the ones who use the seats and tables.

SoBRO will continue working to promote the plan, said Diaz, and trying to persuade the naysayers to give it a chance.

“If we had the same mentality as we had in the ‘70s and ‘80s, we’d never see the progress we do now in the South Bronx,” she said. “If we don’t change, we stagnate.”

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