Three and half years ago, French chef Bernard Ros was ready to find a new home for his restaurant, Paname, which is a slang name for Paris, his home city. Ros looked for a location in the Upper West Side, but then changed his mind. He decided to bid on the East Side instead, a neighbor considered sleepy and unattractive, with the prospect of profiting from the opening of a major transportation artery: the Second Avenue subway.
“You have to take a risk. If you don’t take a risk there is no reward,” Ros said. In more than four decades spent in the city doing business, Ros moved his operation eight times, always fleeing areas in which the cost of real estates had begun cutting into this profit.
Only months away from the opening of a the first phase of the long-awaited Second Avenue subway, new businesses have set foot on the East Side to take advantage of what business experts say will be a new wave of development for an area that has been traditionally underserved by public transportation.
“Things are starting to move. Now it’s time for the East Side,” said Ros. “The whole area was dormant, but now it will be very different. This is the new rush to the gold.”
Ros’ restaurant is located at 1068 2nd Ave, only a few blocks away from the 63rd Street station where the Second Avenue subway will began operating at the end of the year.
Chris Pizzimenti, owner of Al Horno Lean Mexican Kitchen, said opening a restaurant at 1089 2nd Ave. involved some risk, one that he he was willing to take. The increasing number of customers living on the East Side asking him to deliver food from the business’ other location in Hell’s Kitchen convinced him to establish himself in the neighborhood in April 2014, he said.
“We took our chance. We hoped that the subway were completed before the end of our lease,” Pizzimenti said.
There is no doubt business on Second Avenue is rising. In the handful of blocks between 56th and 61st streets, eight new businesses have opened in the last 24 months on the west side of avenue alone. Two storefront are empty and ready for new leases.
“I think that especially in this economy where retail is suffering, it definitely shows a significant growth,” said Robert Byrnes, president of the East Midtown Partnership.
“Are they here because of the subway eventually will be here? I hesitate to answer,” Byrnes said. “The anticipation extension probably psychologically is driving some of this.”
The first phase of the Second Avenue subway, which is budgeted to cost $4.451 billion, is expected to carry approximately 202,000 people on an average weekday, easing the burden on the Lexington Avenue subway line, which shoulders a 1.3 million people weekday ridership.
“It will have a significant impact on this area,” said Mark Wurzel, general counsel at the Grand Central Partnership, a business improvement district.
Wurzel said it’s too early to predict the impact of the Second Avenue subway on the business-dense area surrounding the Grand Central Terminal. But he added that another massive capital project that will bring the Long Island Rail Road to the East Side, called the East Side Access, will provide a solid demonstration on how the new subway line will impact the businesses and real estate in the area, as well the disruption that it will cause.
SL Green Realty Corporation, a real estate investment trust, is building a new 1,401-foot office tower, One Vanderbilt, across the street from the Grand Central Terminal, that will attract new leases and generate millions of dollars every year in property taxes. The corporation will also invest $220 million in the remodeling of the 42nd Street-Grand Central subway station.
As new retail stores, restaurants and wine bars move into the neighborhood, some of the existing businesses had to relocate. Old-timers like Big Daddy’s, a 1980s-style diner at 1596 Second Ave. moved out after losing revenue because of the construction’s negative impact on foot traffic. The restaurant had been open for 15 years, which is considered a long time by city standards.
“It has been hard,” said Julie Zucker, a spokeswoman for Branded Restaurants, the company behind Big Daddy’s. “With the construction over the past two years, we have lost some customers.” Zucker denied the construction was the only factor to persuade the restaurant’s shareholders to pursue another site, as hinted in a recent DNAinfo article, though she said that was a main factor.
“The last ten years have been a disaster. Now the construction is over,” said Julie Park, top agent at Level Group, a real estate agency located in Midtown East. “The impact of the new subway line will be enormous. It will be a game changer.”