Wall Street Merchants Say Protests Throttle Sales, Threaten Jobs

Tuesday, 25 Oct 2011 01:15 PM

 

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Occupy Wall Street protests assailing income inequality, joblessness and big banks may have some unintended consequences. They’re hurting nearby merchants as police barricades deter shoppers.

“If this doesn’t stop soon I will be out business,” said Marc Epstein, 53, president of Milk Street Cafe on Wall Street, less than a block from the New York Stock Exchange.

Sales have dropped about 20 percent since the protests began last month and the 103 jobs created by the cafe’s opening in June are now at risk, said Epstein, who’s not alone. Caroline Anderson, general manager of Boutique Tourbillon, a Wall Street jewelry store, said customer traffic is down about 20 percent, and Vincent Alessi, a managing partner at Bobby Van’s Steakhouse on Broad Street, said his lunch business has been cut in half.

The Occupy Wall Street movement that began in New York with about 1,000 people on Sept. 17 has spread to cities on four continents as demonstrators from London to Rome and Chicago to Sydney have pitched tents in public spaces. Police, whose displays of force also may be hurting business as they block access to tourist destinations, have arrested hundreds.

“These protesters don’t understand the consequences of their actions,” Epstein said. “Who’s going to create the jobs they’re banging their drums for?”

As Wall Street banks reported earnings this month, financial executives made little or no mention of the protests’ impact on their business. Firms including Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Citigroup Inc. have their main New York offices in Midtown, about three miles from the protest epicenter in Lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park.

Lunch-Hour Rush

At Kenjo, a watch retailer adjacent to Milk Street Cafe, the barricades have killed the lunch-hour rush, Artice Jones, the manager, said yesterday as he looked around a store devoid of customers.

“If it stays this way for the rest of the month, it’s not going to look good going into November,” Jones said.

Sales have plunged 40 percent at Paternoster Chop House near the London Stock Exchange, said manager Gerhard Jacobs, whose waiters greet customers at the metal barricades and escort them through the square that police have cordoned off.

“Not only is it affecting my general trade, it’s also affecting my future business,” Jacobs said. “We’ve got inquiries for weddings and exclusive hirings who are now considering taking their business to other restaurants because of the uncertainty of how long this may carry on.”

‘Like Cattle’

Alessi, the steakhouse manager, said customers are “fed up” and are seeking out more convenient places to eat.

“We’re tired of being herded through barricades like cattle,” he said.

Paul Browne, a spokesman for the New York City Police Department, didn’t respond to e-mails inviting comment on how the barricades have hurt businesses in the area.

It’s too early to tell whether the protests are damaging the real estate market in New York’s Financial District, where pending apartment sales have slumped 26 percent in the past month, compared with an 8.8 percent decline for all of Manhattan, said Noah Rosenblatt, founder of UrbanDigs.com, a real estate data and consulting firm.

Beth Bogart, 55, a documentary filmmaker from New York’s West Village who’s volunteered at the Zuccotti Park press table for the past three weeks, said she has encouraged occupiers, visitors and journalists to help local businesses.

“It’s a fairness issue; this cart was here before we were here,” she said, pointing to the food and apparel vendors that line the park’s south border. “We have to make sure that since we are here he doesn’t go out of business. That would be an incredible injustice.”

Teashop, Tents

Some businesses have benefited from the influx of protesters and curious tourists.

A teashop that faces about 100 tents pitched in front of London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral has drawn lines of customers stretching to the door as people converged on the area to witness the protests, said waitress Zanete Cakane.

Some merchants near the European Central Bank headquarters in Frankfurt, where protesters have pitched about 80 tents, are benefiting from the movement.

“If anything, we are getting more business from the demonstrators,” said Isabelle Baelly, 54, who runs a newsstand across from the ECB. “They are very peaceful and we have been letting them use our bathroom facilities and Internet.”

‘It’s Been Good’

Sales are up as much as $1,000 a day at the Pret A Manger sandwich shop a block and a half north of Zuccotti Park, said Shamirah Dillard, a store manager.

“It’s been good, definitely,” she said in an interview. Weekends and days with scheduled marches bring the greatest peaks in extra sales, especially for hot drinks, which more than cover the increased costs of toilet paper and maintenance to keep the two bathrooms clean, she said.

About four-in-10 Americans say they support the Occupy Wall Street movement, according to a Pew Research Center/Washington Post poll released yesterday. Almost as many, 35 percent, say they oppose the protests. The telephone survey of 1,009 adults was conducted Oct. 20-23 and had an error margin of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Amos Winbush III, a Wall Street resident, said he has stopped frequenting a local Thai restaurant and started ordering groceries for delivery.

“I’m super passionate about the movement, but the frustration is feeling like you’re in a war zone with barricades in front of my apartment and cops with big guns standing around,” Winbush, 28, said inside a Brooks Brothers store across the street from Zuccotti Park. “We were okay being a little uncomfortable for a couple of weeks, but after six weeks it gets to be a little much.”

© Copyright 2014 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.

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