In the past week, there’s been a lot of concern for Punjabi Deli, one of the Lower East Side’s few remaining affordable restaurants. As Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York reported last week, the cabbie haven has been withering as the East Houston Street reconstruction project drags on year after year. 2,700 people have signed a petition urging the city to install a taxi relief stand nearby to help the struggling business.
Many other retail businesses along East Houston are having to cope with the loss of customers due to the disruptive project. Even 126-year-old Katz’s Deli, one of the biggest and most successful restaurants on the Lower East Side, is feeling the effects. A water main break that flooded parts of East Houston and Ludlow streets back in May has made matters even worse.
If you walked past Katz’s on any one of several days last week, you probably saw co-owner Jake Dell pacing outside, talking with representatives from various city agencies and anxiously looking on as workers dug into the sidewalk alongside the deli. Replacing the water mains has been an on-again, off-again affair lasting for many weeks, he said. Coupled with the larger East Houston infrastructure project, the legendary deli’s business has taken a major hit during the spring and summer.
The restaurant has a lot of longtime customers from outside Manhattan who pull up along East Houston to pick up take-out orders. Right now. that’s impossible. The business, Dell said, depends on volume. On the day we visited, the restaurant was about half full. By the time the weekend arrived, the sidewalk had been patched up and the entrance to Katz’s was clear, but Dell said there are ongoing issues. For one thing, he noted, the city periodically shuts of water service to the whole area.
We asked the Department of Design & Construction, which is overseeing the East Houston project, for an explanation. Here’s what we were told by DDC Assistant Commissioner Joe Soldevere:
Our East Houston Street reconstruction project did not originally include this location. Following the break and DEP’s emergency-repair operations, we expanded the project to provide additional new water mains and more reliable water service for an increased number of nearby businesses and homes. The flooding in May shows just how urgently this work is needed. To install the new mains and make water-service connections to buildings in the area, we’ve had to excavate Houston Street’s roadway and sidewalks. There is simply no other way to perform this necessary work. We should be done within six weeks – at which time there will be a brand new sidewalk and water pipes that should last for generations. DDC has appointed a full-time community construction liaison for the project. Our liaison serves as a resource and point of contact for the community, answers questions, keeps residents up to date on construction activities, and helps address any concerns the community may have.
The larger roadway reconstruction project is not expected to conclude until the middle of 2016. If you are a business or resident hoping to contact the city’s liaison, here’s his information:
Community Construction Liaison