Bringing Main Street to Columbus Avenue

| 02 Mar 2015 | 05:01

A $200,000 grant would spruce up the streetscape between 105th and 106th Streets

Columbus Ave. is about to get a facelift. Community Board 7 last week unanimously endorsed a grant by the Manhattan Valley Development Corporation to "upgrade and revitalize" the west side of the avenue between 105th and 106th streets through additional security lighting and a uniformed look to the awnings for the various shops on the block. The grant ? which is administered by the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal ? would seek to beautify the block and draw visibility to storefronts by creating an appealing, singular aesthetic.

"We looked at the grant application and it was easy to conclude that the use of this money for this purpose makes all the sense in the world," Community Board 7 Chair Mark Diller said. "It's a good use of public funds."

Some business owners on the block aren't so sure. Matthew Freeman, owner of Kenshikai Karate, can see how a nice storefront would be a facelift for some of his eyesore neighbors, but he doubts that his business's success will be much affected by the beautification of the block.

"Unless it leads to a real estate cascade that makes the whole community more affluent? but we serve two hundred students, total," Freeman notes, estimating that a nicer block would only marginally impact enrollment. "I think it's an unnecessary amount of work. Especially if businesses have to be shut down at all."

Others, like Yosaira Castro of D'Customers Hair Salon (930 Columbus Ave) think the plan will add elegance to the block.

"It's chippy, what we have," Castro said in Spanish. "This way, we'll have more visibility, and more clientele."

The proposed grant ? which requests over $200,000 in state funding, according to Diller ? would use the west side of Columbus Avenue between 108th and 109th Street as a model. On that block, storefronts like Gleam Salon (986 Columbus Ave) and Manhattan Valley Wines and Spirits (984 Columbus Ave) have clean, stylistized signage that distinguishes them from other parts of the avenue.

"We love it," Art Cortez, stylist at Gleam Salon, said. "It draws attention to and cleans up the block. In one year, our sales are up fifteen percent." Cortez and business parter/stylist Alejandra Pacheco opened the place together based on the singular-façade aesthetic; after looking at a storefront in Central Park West, they ended up on Columbus Avenue because they enjoyed the unique look.

Joe Hargrave, the owner at Manhattan Valley Wines and Spirits, came to the same conclusion.

"I've been in retail for a number of years," Hargrave said. "And this is a very nice job."

But for store owners like Homar A. Reyes, president/owner of tax company Phenix Multiservices [sic], there's some concern that the businesses' individual flair will be lost in the name of the neighborhood clean-up.

"I don't want to have to use the same color sign as everyone else," Reyes said in Spanish. "I've had my logo for twenty years. Is it now going to disappear?"

Perhaps the whole matter is a question of comfort at change. That's the theory Josefina, a clerk at La Nacional (930 Columbus Ave), posits.

"Earlier in the year, we had my desk over there," Josefina noted, pointing to a spot less than ten feet away from where her station has been relocated. "Now, people will come in, look around, get confused, and assume that no one is working here."

One can only assume people won't make the same mistake with Columbus Avenue, no matter what they do to the signs above each store's window.