The owner of the Milk Street Cafe, a big upscale food court that opened in June on Wall Street, has laid off a quarter of his staff, and he predicts he'll go out of business soon. Though he was doing well and on track to break even on his investment next month, the NYPD's barricades on Wall Street— put in place to keep out Occupy Wall Street protesters—have been killing him. Owner Marc Epstein tells us he's had to lay off over 20 employees, and his business is off 30% because Wall Street is a dead zone. Reached by phone today, Epstein says:
I have no opinion about the protesters' point of view. These barriers are killing my business, and everyone—the police, the protesters, the Mayor—has to understand the ramifications. The police decided the way to solve this was to put up these barricades, and I've approached every white shirt police officer here and said, "You are killing my business!" They say they're just following orders.
These barricades have created a siege down here on Wall Street that makes people not come here. I opened in June and hired 100 people and thought that was something good. I borrowed money, and the Trump organization took a risk with a little guy from Boston and signed the lease with me, and the bank loaned me money, and now I feel like a fool. I took such a risk here, and I'm collateral damage. My staff is collateral damage for other people's battles.
We asked Epstein if he'd taken his grievances to the local Community Board, which passed a resolution almost two weeks ago calling on the NYPD to remove all nonessential barricades. Epstein, who is from Boston, where the original Milk Street Cafe operates, says he didn't realize that "was the route to take." (He's been pleading with the city's Small Business Administration.) But he says little has changed since the Community Board resolution.
"The barricades have got to go," Epstein insists. "They can't just move them over so the sidewalk is wider, which they've done. That does not address the issue that people have stopped coming to Wall Street. They just don't walk down there. And I have no idea if you pull out the barricades how long it will take them to return."
In an earlier interview with DNAinfo, Epstein seemed to place the blame on the protesters, dismissing Occupy Wall Street as "not serious... If it was, they would not want small businesses going out of business." But when we spoke with him today, he insisted he had no opinion about the protesters—he just wants the barricades removed.
Asked about his plight, Occupy Wall Street issued a statement saying, "The NYPD makes the decisions on the part of police barricades. This is not our choice and we would never want businesses to have to deal with inconveniences that may reduce their business traffic."