A Business Closes and Cites Bike Lanes

Mara's HomemadeElizabeth Vulaj The owner of Mara’s Homemade, who recently announced that the restaurant is closing its doors, cited bike lanes that were installed last summer as part of the reason that the restaurant saw a decline in business.

Taxes and the rent have gone up but Mara Levi mostly blames the bike lanes for having to close Mara’s Homemade, her authentic New Orleans-style restaurant on East Sixth Street near First Avenue. If the customers come from all over the tri-state area and even beyond, she said, a restaurant has to have parking.

Ms. Levi said that she now pays double for taxes than she did when she opened seven years ago, but that the addition of the bike lanes, which opened in July and reduced the number of available street parking spaces, have significantly contributed to the business’ decline.

“We saw a drop in business the day those lanes came in,” said Ms. Levi. “When you go from twelve parking spaces per block to three, that makes a difference.”

In January, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg conceded that city officials should have notified residents when they decided to install the lanes. Levi said she was not even aware of any plans until one evening, where she saw construction workers toiling away on First Avenue.

“One night we come out, and they were marking lanes and paving,” said Ms. Levi. “It was a total surprise. There was no input from the community and it upset me a lot.”

The lanes, which Ms. Levi said now only allow one major lane for traffic, have taken up many parking spots near the restaurant, shooing away frustrated drivers who can’t find any available space. She said since the lanes were first opened, the revenue for the restaurant went down by 30 percent.

“I had a customer come in a couple of weeks ago and he said, ‘I just want you to know that I drove around the block eight times and if I don’t find a place, I won’t come here.’”

Mara's HomemadeElizabeth Vulaj Dan McShane drove from New Jersey and waited 20 minutes for parking to dine at Mara’s. The owner of the restaurant said that recently installed bike lanes reduced the number of available street parking spaces and contributed to a downturn in business.

Ms. Levi said the customer, who was a regular patron and ate at Mara’s every Sunday, has not come in at all these past two Sundays.

Ms. Levi, a native of Texas, she that she wanted to bring a slice of southern cuisine to the neighborhood and decided to open Mara’s in November 2003. Dan McShane, a regular at Mara’s who has visited New Orleans in the past, recently took a sip of his beer and glanced up at the fish in nets hanging from the ceiling in the restaurant. “It’s really hard to find an authentic New Orleans restaurant here,” he said. “I kind of like this location because it has a more homemade, intimate feel.”

His friend, Matt Barone, agreed. “I feel like this is a snapshot of New Orleans,” he said.

Mr. McShane and his friends drove from New Jersey and said they waited 20 minutes for parking, but he believes most diners from the city probably would not wait as long. “New Yorkers are very impatient,” said Mr. McShane. “We waited 20 minutes, but most New Yorkers would probably drive around and say, ‘you know what, let’s go somewhere else. I don’t want to park here.’”

In fact, Ms. Levi said most of her business relies on out-of-town diners. “We are a destination place,” she said. “We have people that drive from Long Island, Connecticut, and Philadelphia.”

Mara's HomemadeElizabeth Vulaj Customers share a drink at Mara’s.

There are a number of parking lots in the area as an alternative, but Ms. Levi believes that the cost of those lots discourage many potential patrons from using them. “People just don’t want to spend 30 bucks for parking,” said Ms. Levi. “If people can’t find a parking space, you lose a business.”

Levi made the decision last month to close, and sent out a mass e-mail to her closest friends and customers. She was sad to be leaving the neighborhood, but felt she and her workers had no other choice. “If you’re losing customers from the bike lanes and you have rising costs that you have no control over,” she said. “Why should we stay?”

Ms. Levi just negotiated a lease to open a new location in Syosset, which she said will be three times the size of the East Sixth Street location. She plans to have the place up and running by the middle of next month.