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Expert Panel Addresses Concerns About BQX’s Impact on Small Businesses

Business owners and advocates from across the country spoke to local business owners about the impact of streetcar construction. (Peter Nguyen)

March 6, 2019 By Laura Hanrahan

While construction of the BQX streetcar is still far from being a reality, advocacy group Friends of the BQX is already assisting local business owners on how to prepare for that day.

Last night, the non-profit hosted a panel of experts in Williamsburg at the Brooklyn Brewery for an hour-long meeting to discuss the challenges small businesses might face while the 11-mile streetcar route is being constructed.  

The panelists–comprised of business leaders and advocates from cities where streetcars have been built–shared their experiences both during and after streetcar construction with more than 200 attendees, many of whom operate storefronts along the Astoria-to-Red Hook planned route.

The panelists offered tips on how business owners should prepare for construction and the provisions they should make. These tips included marketing strategies, savings plans and loans.

“If you’re going to lose 20, 30, 40, 50 percent of your business, how are you going to prepare now for those two years of construction?” said Isabel Chanslor, an executive with a non-profit lender in St. Paul, Minnesota, according to Patch.

The BQX as envisioned in Williamsburg (EDC)

Chanslor, whose firm aided businesses when a streetcar was constructed in St. Paul, said: “We helped more than 500 small businesses in St. Paul weather light rail construction outside their doors, setting a good example for what is possible with the BQX.”

Chanslor added: “It requires setting clear expectations well before work starts, and making sure concerns are addressed in a timely and productive way throughout construction.”

Earlier this month, Mayor Bill de Blasio made a significant step toward making the project a reality, awarding a $7.2 million contract to engineering firm VHB to conduct an environmental review of the BQX. The city’s most recent plan would include 26 stops and serve up to 50,000 riders each day.

The panelists agreed that while construction has the potential to temporarily disrupt sales, the end result will bolster business by increasing foot traffic.

“Every small business owner is sensitive to change, especially when it means construction outside your storefront,” said Aaron Barthel, Co-Owner of Seattle-based Intrigue Chocolate Co. “In Seattle’s historic Pioneer Square neighborhood, we worked with our fellow businesses to advocate for our needs and moderate the impacts of construction. At the end, we got streetcar service that increases foot traffic and brings more people to our shop.”

Friends of the BQX announced plans to collaborate with business owners along the BQX corridor and create a Small Business Working Group. The group, which will be formalized in the coming months, will liaise with city agencies and contractors throughout the planning and construction phases of the project, acting as a voice for local business owners.

According to the city’s most recent plans, construction on the BQX is expected to begin in 2024 and be completed by 2029.

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