The Struggle for Small Businesses to Survive
Next month, the Rye Chamber of Commerce will be hosting a speaker from American Express, MaryAnn Fitzmaurice, who will speak about her company’s recent campaign to highlight the mom and pop shops that help to define and enrich a community’s Main Street. I used to work at American Express and their commitment to small business owners is sincere, so I look forward to hearing her thoughts.
Recently, I took on a new position at a local non-profit and so, joined Rye’s Chamber of Commerce. One of my most searing memories as a child is watching my father sit at the kitchen table every Sunday night, struggling to make payroll for the five or so employees who worked at our family hand laundry business. With the advent of increased competition and frankly, more washers/dryers at home, our family business could barely make weekly payroll. My dad would slowly shake his head back and forth as he filled the pay envelopes with cash, sometimes even using coins. The thin envelopes would be handed out each Monday morning to our workers — each with their own families to support. Over time, those envelopes became thinner and thinner, and eventually, we were forced to close Yee’s Laundry, a 20-year family owned business. That was a loss that lives with me to this day. And so, my commitment to the Chamber and its mission to help small businesses is a deeply personal one.
Recently, there has been discussion about the Smoke Shop and its possible closing after 90 years. Opinions vary about what can be done (and what should have been done), by the shop owners, landlord, the Chamber of Commerce, the community. I don’t know the answer to those questions. All I know is what I feel, and that is an abiding sense of loss and sadness whenever a local store struggles to survive and ultimately, must close its doors. This has happened all too often over the last several years.
The Rye Chamber of Commerce advocates “Shop Rye.” I support that mission, and ask others to do the same, please, for all the Moms and Pops in our community.
Helen Gates, Rye Chamber of Commerce member
Rebuild the Central Avenue Bridge
The following letter was sent to Mayor Doug French, Assemblyman George Latimer and City Manager Scott Pickup and forwarded to The Rye Record for publication:
We are residents of Barbara Court and Loewen Court and write regarding of the status of the replacement of the Central Avenue Bridge. As all of us are acutely aware, on April 15, 2007 a confluence of events that included a severe northeastern storm dropping record rainfall, accompanied by a rare tidal surge, dislocated the Central Avenue Bridge. As you are also aware, at the time of the storm, the bridge was already more than 50 years old and had been scheduled for renovation well before the storm damaged it beyond repair.
The public has received regular reports during the years advising of the status of the reconstruction of the bridge. Indeed, the City Council previously posted on the City’s website a proposed timetable of events, which projected a completion date of fall 2012. Mayor French provided a further on-line update on October 19, 2011, which is referenced below. I think it fair to say that most of Rye is not pleased with the delays that we have had to endure, some excusable and some not, but timing is not the primary focus of this letter. The primary focus is to ensure that the Central Avenue Bridge is in fact rebuilt and that this project is a priority.
With residential development along Central Avenue burgeoning more than a half a century ago — and before residences on Loewen Court and Barbara Court were even constructed — the municipal planners believed it wise and prudent to erect a bridge connecting Central Avenue to Route 1 in order to ease ingress and egress from the area and to ensure orderly traffic flow on the Post Road. Thus there were two bridges, the Orchard Street and the Central Avenue bridges, connecting the surrounding neighborhood to Route 1.
The planners proved prescient, as years later additional properties were developed in the area, including the homes on Barbara Court and Loewen Court which were accommodated by the Central Avenue bridge. Simply put, if the planners believed that two bridges were justified before the development of Loewen and Barbara courts, two bridges became critical after such development.
Anyone who purchased a home on Central Avenue over the last 55 years knew, of course, that they were buying into a busy thoroughfare. The market price of their home reflected that choice. Similarly, those who purchased a house on Loewen Court or Barbara Court bargained that they would live and raise families on a cul de sac that had ready access to a thoroughfare leading to Route 1, which provided the main source of egress from their homes.
We are aware that some of the residents of Central Avenue are not in favor of rebuilding the Central Avenue Bridge. That comes as no surprise. They bargained for, received and expected to live on a busy thoroughfare but now find themselves with something better: a cul de sac of their own. But other than their own comfort, no legitimate reason has been advanced for not rebuilding the bridge. The Rye community as a whole needs it.
Rebuilding the Bridge
As set forth below, the notion of not replacing the Central Avenue bridge is foolhardy, and it would be manifestly unjust not to do so.
As has been widely published, the City Council has overseen studies on the effects of traffic caused by the dislocation of the bridge. Those studies support what any Rye resident and visitor in the area knows, namely that having two outlets to the Post Road reduced to one has caused an enormous disruption of traffic flow and had
led to unacceptable, daily inconvenience and congestion. Everyone recognizes that.
Aside from maintaining the sound planning principles that led to the construction of the Central Avenue bridge in the first place, there are perhaps more exigent reasons to rebuild. These concerns were starkly brought to light in recent days and compel a retort to a letter that appears in the Rye Record in its April 27, 2011 edition. By way of background, in connection with the reconstruction of the bridge, the City Council and others have correctly recognized the health and safety concerns with which the neighborhood has been confronted and which would be permanent if the bridge were not rebuilt. In the April 27 edition of the Rye Record, a Central Avenue resident rather callously and cavalierly dismissed any issues of safety risks in the event the bridge is not rebuilt. The writer dismisses “the safety issue” as “sound[ing] a lot like the propaganda.” Further, she notes that the concerns about passage for emergency vehicles “isn’t a reality, it’s a convenient talking point for a City Counsel and City Manager that had made up their minds.”
As you are aware by now, the safety concerns summarily cast aside by the writer unfortunately in fact became a reality. In April, a Loewen Court resident suffered a
serious heart attack and was delayed medical treatment because the EMS team’s GPS guided it over a nonexistent Central Avenue Bridge. Indeed witnesses observed the ambulance traversing back and forth on the Post Road while the man lost precious time because the bridge was down. When later confronted with this fact, the writer’s online response could not dispute that the impassable bridge caused a delay; instead she downplayed the length of the delay and, implying the delay had no negative consequences, stressed that the “victim” is “now recovering.” This ill-informed response simply underscores the urgency and necessity of having the bridge rebuilt promptly. The notion that time is of the essence when a person is suffering a heart attack is unassailable.
No medical professional would contest the fact that minutes are critical in this situation. As the Mayo Clinic website advises: “with each passing minute after a heart attack, more heart tissue loses oxygen and deteriorates or dies.” And we cannot let go unaddressed that the “victim” to whom the writer coldly adverts is someone’s husband, father and grandfather, as well as a dear friend to everyone in the neighborhood and beyond. (No doubt her characterization and tone would have been different had it been her spouse or child who needed immediate treatment.)
In addition to ambulance service delays, we run the very real risk of a fire truck being blocked from passage on Walnut Street (the most direct path to the neighborhood). Over the past five years, for substantial periods during the course of the day cars are improperly parked on both sides of the streets. That would block a fire truck, and unfortunately it is a tragedy waiting to happen. We are confident that is a risk you already have vetted with our City’s fine fire officials. Recent well-publicized tragedies involving house fires in our region alone show just how important a few minutes can be.
Despite our fears relating to safety and health becoming a reality, the writer also proclaims, ala Nostradamus, that if the Central Avenue Bridge is rebuilt it “will be a short term solution” and “the bridge will come down again, causing more damage.” Yet the original bridge stood the test of time for more than 50 years, was about to be refortified, and only was dislodged because of a second record-breaking storm. There is no reason to believe that a new, modern structure, engineered to withstand nature’s elements, will not last longer than the original bridge. But even if it didn’t, that does not justify not rebuilding. On the other hand, during the next 50 years we will unfortunately experience health and safety incidents like the one we just experienced. That is natural. When that happens, we would like to think that our City has acted responsibly in putting in place all reasonable mechanisms to protect its citizens.
Mayor French aptly observed in his October 2011 update; “Central Avenue is a key connecting road through Rye and the need to re-establish access to that area for traffic and emergency vehicles is imperative. City staff and the respective boards will review the potential pedestrian traffic and parking impacts of the bridge. The bridge design has been incorporated and reviewed to address the impact of flooding.”
We urge that the Council hold true to this mandate and make rebuilding the Central Avenue Bridge a priority.
Mark and Susan Hyland
Louis and Camille LaRose
Arnie and Emily Lewis
Frank and Patricia Paolercio
Ken and Sandy Weissberg
Jane and Mark Mittler
Anna and Stuart Reis
Jim and Vivian Maione
William and Christine Zipf
Jessica and Craig Antico
Jackie and Leo Travagliante
Edgar Gentry and Celia Clark
Paul and Sharon Zaichek
Peggy and Rod Thorn
Edward and Sonya Fox
Marcie and Perry Mintz
Joseph and Donna Licare
Retain Laura and Elect Nancy
Laura Slack and Nancy Pasquale are clearly ahead of “the pack” in terms of fit and readiness for service on the Rye City School District’s Board of Education. At the League of Women Voter’s debate, both showed that they have “done their homework” having worked through the proposed budget line-by-line. This was reflected in their being the only candidates to recognize that the proposed budget has a 1.75% tax rate increase, and not the 2.61% in the current budget.
As President of the Board, Laura has mastered the District’s issues — fiscal, curriculum, staff, and facilities. She also carries invaluable experience for the next round of teacher contract negotiations.
Nancy’s appearance at virtually all Board meetings for the past three years, her involvement in the Curriculum Council, and history of PTO leadership provides her with the knowledge needed to “hit the ground running” as a new trustee. Additionally, she has shown that she can make the time needed to fulfill the duties of Board membership.
I’ll be voting to retain Laura and elect Nancy.
The Other Side of the Story
I am writing in response to an article in your April 13 edition. As the homeowner referred to in the piece about the woodchips, I would have appreciated a phone call to clarify the incorrect information that was stated in the article. It seems to me that you should have heard both sides of this issue.
The wood chips were not a result of my felling a tree; they had been delivered to be used as a weed block (for invasive plants) on my property on the other side of the fence so that I could put in plants for erosion control: soil retention/water absorption.
The wood chips were removed as soon as I could get it done, four days, and placed around the pear trees on Highland Avenue at the request of my neighbor who was
doing it as a favor to the city. The trees’ roots were exposed to the elements after hurricane Irene.
It would behoove you to check with both sides for fair and balanced reporting.
Editor’s note: The paper was unable to get the name of the homeowner from official sources. We apologize for any errors or omission.
Rebuild the Central Avenue Bridge for Safety’s Sake
I am writing in response to a Letter to the Editor, “Don’t Rebuild the Central Avenue Bridge”, a letter which is factually incorrect.
I am stunned and saddened by statements such as “The constant fallback to ‘it’s a safety issue’ sounds a lot like propaganda”. We recently had a near death experience in our neighborhood, Loewen Court, which came close to a tragedy when an ambulance was late in reaching a neighbor in urgent need of treatment. The proponents of the “Don’t Rebuild the Central Avenue Bridge” view are ignorant of the fact that the Fire and Police Departments, our professional first responders, have both advocated for the rebuilding of the bridge. You may not be concerned with fire trucks reaching your house, but we in Loewen Court are!
“Over the last five years, I’ve seen large fire trucks easily drive across Walnut and Laurel streets to get to Central.” While that may be true, others including myself, have witnessed many accidents waiting to happen on Walnut Street due to traffic congestion and parking or unloading of vehicles on the wrong side of the street.
The Orchard Bridge, which is the only connecting route between western sections of Rye and the Boston Post Road corridor, was not designed to deal with the current traffic. It does not take a rocket scientist to see that the Orchard Bridge is on its “last legs” in bad need of repairs and will require replacement in the near future. How are ambulances and fire trucks supposed to reach our neighborhood if this bridge is compromised in the next storm?
The letter goes on to state, “I fully expect worse flooding once a pitched bridge is constructed 30 yards from my house.” What factual analysis was used to arrive at this conclusion? Flooding on lower Central Avenue occurred before and after the bridge collapsed, because lower Central Avenue lies in flood zone. Rebuilding the Central Avenue Bridge will not cause more flooding; likewise it will not alleviate flooding on lower Central Avenue.
In 2007, citizens of Rye formed the Flood Action Committee, a group of volunteers who are dedicated to advocating steps to mitigate future flood damage. The City Council, including dedicated volunteers, formed the Flood Mitigation Committee, who is also working on ways to deal with future floods. We should urge them to push harder with the State and work on releasing the Federal funds allocated for the rebuilding of the Central Avenue Bridge.
Many of us in Loewen and Barbara Court endured property damage during the past floods and we moved on and rebuilt. No one has tried to extract property value out of this unfortunate event. There are many ways in which people who would like to get involved, could volunteer on these committees dedicated to help with the environment and flood mitigation. I would urge people to become involved with one of these groups and seek to add value rather than complain.
Lucky to Have Laura Slack
Why Laura Slack?
Competence, compassion, commitment and I really don’t think she ever sleeps.
I have had the pleasure of knowing Laura for 15 years. I served with her in various capacities at Midland for at least five of those years and sat idly on the sideline as she was elected to the Board of Education, of which she is now the president. Her accomplishments on the board are well known: she was instrumental in the new teachers contract; she has insisted Rye maintain a low tax rate and she has stewarded budgets with the lowest increases in school taxes in a four-year period in the last 25 years. She spearheaded the search for our new superintendent of schools. She did all this while tackling the enormous challenges of the Caring Committee and raising three children.
Laura is smart, patient, funny, and tireless in her pursuit of what’s right. She has always set politics aside and put our children’s interests first. She will have my vote for anything, ever.
Please join me in feeling very lucky to vote for Laura Slack on May 15th.
Don’t Rebuild the Central Avenue Bridge
What a surprise! The rebuilding of the Central Avenue Bridge is delayed again. The State has submitted 12-20 questions about construction management. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see the State has — appropriately — rethought funding the bridge. I have a unique perspective about the bridge since I’ve lived on the corner of Central Avenue and Laurel Street for nearly 12 years. When the bridge went down in 2007, I, like many people, wanted to see it rebuilt. It made sense from a traffic perspective and, to my mind, would be an aesthetic improvement.
Over time, and particularly after Hurricane Irene, I shifted my view and now advocate strongly against rebuilding the bridge. It isn’t a prudent use of funds and will ultimately cause more damage than we can imagine. The constant fallback to “it’s a safety issue” sounds a lot like propaganda. “We must build the bridge for emergency vehicles” isn’t a reality; it’s a convenient talking point for a City Council and City Manager that have made up their minds.
Over the last five years, I’ve seen large fire trucks easily drive across Walnut and Laurel streets to get to Central. I have no concerns about emergency vehicles accessing my neighborhood. Further, when Rye requested State regulatory relief for getting bridge aid, they were denied. Clearly, the State doesn’t think rebuilding the bridge is an emergency. It’s not. It’s a convenience and one that poses a threat to those of us who live near it. We have asked for flood effect studies and have been rebuffed.
My house was built in 1935 by a smart builder who placed it high and on solid rock. Depending on Blind Brook overflow, it gets some water in the garage and basement. I fully expect worse flooding once a pitched bridge is constructed 30 yards from my house. When our local government reduces the arguments against the bridge to “residents having gotten used to quiet,” they lower the level of what could be a constructive dialogue. We’ve been dismissed as cul-de-sac seekers while officials hammer home safety issues that aren’t tangible. Is it unreasonable to expect to live in a house in a City where local government actions mitigate flooding, not exacerbate it?
It’s true that traffic will continue to be congested around Orchard and Boston Post Road without the bridge. It’s been that way for nearly five years. Why hasn’t the City done anything — anything at all — to alleviate that? I’m certain we can mitigate traffic in the area. It will take effort and hard work.
Rebuilding the Central Avenue Bridge will be a short-term solution, not a panacea. In time, the bridge will come down again, cause much damage, and we’ll be in a similar situation but with $1,000,000 less in the City’s fund balance. It’s time for Rye to face the same fact the State seems to have digested: rebuilding the Central Avenue Bridge isn’t a prudent use of funds.
Adding a Playland Train Stop Would Be Much Better Than the Proposed Trail
By Alan Beechey
I fully support the County’s goal of giving train-users and cyclists safe access to Playland and the forthcoming Westchester Children’s Museum. And I can see how the proposed bike/pedestrian trail covered in your last edition would also benefit Rye residents, especially the welcome expansion and improvement of the Parkway footpaths.
There’s just one problem. It won’t work.
Let’s start with those cyclists. What cyclists? Metro-North, with a few exceptions, allows no more than eight bicycles per train on weekends, even fewer on weekdays.
And I seriously wonder who would lug a bike onto a platform and through the doors of a passenger train just so he or she can pedal the last mile or so to Playland. Of course, as a cyclist, I’d love to see well-marked bike paths all around Rye. But Station Plaza is probably the least likely point of entry to our community for cyclists riding to Playland.
Then what about the walkers? Take a look at the map, and you’ll see the problem.
The shortest walking route from the station to Playland is only about 1.7 miles (34 minutes) if you cut through Rye Rec and use the Sanford Street entrance to the car park. Without those shortcuts, the quickest route is almost exactly two miles.
The Playland Pathway Route is (officially) 2.65 miles long. That’s 53 minutes of walking time, before any waits for traffic signals.
Principal designer for the project, Alex Berryman, anticipated criticism when, as Bill Lawyer reported in his coverage of the recent City Hall forum, he “stressed that safety and clarity were the primary criteria in selecting this route, rather than ‘shortness.’”
Ah, of course. When safety and clarity are paramount, every weary, stroller-shoving parent from the Bronx is surely going to opt for a homeward route that’ll take about 15 minutes longer to reach the station rather than dare the dark and dangerous alleyways known as Milton Road or Midland Avenue. It’s not as if that tangled labyrinth has sidewalks or streetlamps or speed limits or signposts. Or do we just expect out-of-town walkers to follow the new route like clueless sheep, as if Google Maps and GPS-equipped smartphones (or word of mouth) never existed?
I have no doubt Mr. Berryman knows landscape architecture; I just question whether he knows human nature. To take one example, referred to in the presentation, does anyone truly believe that pedestrians, eager for a ride on the Dragon Coaster, will ignore the bypassed “Hammond Road shortcut” and hike an extra 250 yards just because the arrows point them that way? Well, once maybe.
I came across a great phrase the other day: a “desire path.” It’s the name for a trail worn through a patch of grass when walkers use it as a short cut rather than staying on a winding paved pathway. And I can safely guarantee that the as-the-crow-flies the “desire paths”of Milton, Midland, and Forest will still be used by Playland’s patrons, even after the County has spent $2 million to channel them the long way round.
So why attempt to herd those footsore, public-transport-dependent Playland visitors along a route that blatantly gives them an inconsiderate 40% more trudging time after a long day at the park, even if it is prettied up? “Safety and clarity,” remember. Not at all because, unlike those largely residential desire paths, only about half of the proposed Pathway Route runs beside private homes, none of them among Rye’s more expensive properties.
Now I know this isn’t the City’s doing, because Playland — for now — is County-owned, and this project was instigated by the County Planning Department. But no matter how well planned and executed it may be, shouldn’t we look more closely at its implications and feel a little ashamed of ourselves?
Besides, there’s a much better solution that’ll be good both for Rye and Playland, especially when it comes to attracting more visitors. Add a seasonally open Playland Station to MetroNorth, between Harrison and Rye. There’s already the perfect site — an acre or so of overgrown land right beside the railway line, wrapping around the gas station where North Street and Theodore Fremd Avenue cross. You don’t need space for commuter parking; only 1.4 miles to Playland and the Children’s Museum, with no detours. And right on the Playland Pathway Route.