The owner of a normally bustling downtown Manhattan cafe claims that 21 of his employees lost their jobs last week and that it is a direct result of the Occupy Wall Street protests.
Marc Epstein, owner of the Milk Street Cafe at 40 Wall St., said he was forced to lay off the members of his staff last Friday after suffering a 30 percent dip in sales in the six weeks since the protests started. He also stated that he could lose his entire business in less than a month. To make matters worse, Milk Street just opened in June 2011.
“What are [the protesters] trying to accomplish here?” Epstein asked Monday. “The end result is that I and all the wonderful people who work for me are collateral damage.”
Epstein said the biggest problem is the police barricades that have lined Wall Street since Sept. 17, making it difficult for people to see his restaurant and cross the street to get to it. Epstein has also had to contend with closed subway entrances, police checkpoints and frequent Occupy Wall Street marches, which he said have dampened the Financial District’s formerly thriving street life.
“Now, Wall Street is deserted,” Epstein said. “The only people who walk down Wall Street are people who have to walk down Wall Street. It’s transformed from a beautiful pedestrian mall to a police siege.”
Epstein just opened the 23,000-square-foot Milk Street Cafe in June, marking the first expansion of the eatery and catering business with the same name that he and his wife opened in Boston 30 years ago. Using loans and private investors, Epstein poured $4 million into the project and said he was proud to be part of lower Manhattan’s revitalization.
But now, Epstein said he isn’t sure his business will be open for much longer. In addition to laying off 21 of his 97 workers, he also had to cut the restaurant’s operating hours, closing at 3:30 p.m. rather than 9 p.m.
“If we don’t get these barricades down, we will be out of business,” Epstein said Monday. “I give myself three weeks.”
Epstein said he is frustrated that he cannot get anyone at the city to return his calls, and he said he would never open another business in New York if this one fails.
On Monday, Epstein did manage to speak on the phone to Donald Trump, his landlord, and Trump said he would try to intervene with the city to get the barricades removed, Epstein said.
Marc LaVorgna, spokesman for the Mayor’s Office, said the city wants to help Epstein.
“We have been working closely with the community to address the issues caused by the Occupy Wall Street protesters and will continue to do so,” LaVorgna said in an e-mail.
And while Mayor Michael Bloomberg criticized the Occupy protesters in October for negatively impacting local business and “trying to destroy jobs,” he has yet to take any measures to protect lower Manhattan’s business community.
Meanwhile, Occupy Wall Street released a statement Tuesday saying that the NYPD is to blame for Epstein’s demise.
“The NYPD makes the decisions on the part of police barricades,” the statement said in part.
“This is not our choice and we would never want businesses to have to deal with inconveniences that may reduce their business traffic.”
Epstein, who marched in 1987 to free oppressed Jews from the Soviet Union, said he understands protests but cannot condone the Occupiers’ tactics.
“This movement is not serious,” Epstein said. “If it was, they would not want small businesses going out of business.”
If Epstein’s business is at risk, one can only imagine how many other businesses across the country are being negatively affected by the Occupy movement. How many will lose their jobs and how many doors will close?
If anyone living in cities with Occupy movements are seeing local businesses compromised, please send us your observations.