It was noon on a warm September Friday. “We usually get a decent crowd for lunch,” Peter’s Clam Bar manager Pepe Poblador said as he stood in the nearly empty dining room of the venerable Island Park seafood restaurant. There were four customers present.
For nearly 80 years, the seafood restaurant has thrived on Long Beach Road, perched along Barnum’s Channel. But this summer, its current owner, Butch Yamali, says that construction on the Barnum Island Bridge has jeopardized his business.
“They’re not letting me survive,” he said. “It’s almost like they’re trying to hurt me.”
Yamali blamed Nassau County, which is overseeing the construction, and said that the project was not proceeding the way he expected and suffered from poor planning. “Why do they not work in the wintertime or the nighttime?” Yamali asked. “Why don’t you work off a barge on the water, or just close two lanes instead of three?”
The work began last October, and is slated for completion by December, nearly six months ahead of schedule, according to County Legislator Denise Ford. But on Aug. 2, the northbound side of the bridge, directly in front of Peter’s, was closed as construction on the southbound side ended.
Then, in the first week of September, a chain-link fence blocking half of the Peter’s frontage was erected, and cones obstruct much of the entrance to the restaurant’s parking lot. Poblador said that they pose obstacles for older customers in particular, and that the work has kicked up debris and dust that frequently covers the outdoor tables. Additionally, vibrations from drilling have created cracks in the building’s floor, he said.
Poblador and Yamali estimate that from June to August, business was down 40 to 50 percent. In September, after the fence went up, they said, they lost about 50 percent of their potential revenue. All told, Yamali said, he made roughly $1 million less in the summer season compared with the last three years. As a result, he and Poblador said, they had to cut restaurant workers’ hours. Peter’s employs roughly 50 people.
Responding to a Herald inquiry, Ford said that the closure of the northbound side of Long Beach Road was moved up because construction was ahead of schedule. “It was never our intent to disrupt the local businesses,” she said.
“This project — we had to do it,” Ford added. “The bridge had to be replaced.”
The bridge was built in 1925, and rebuilt in 1988. It was inspected six years ago and found to have structural problems, according to Marry Studdert, a spokeswoman for the county Department of Public Works.
Ford said that the county has tried to accommodate Yamali by providing an electronic “Restaurant Open” sign and asking the project’s contractor to move the fence to provide additional parking in front of the restaurant. She added that county officials had offered Yamali the option of moving the traffic cones farther south to open up additional lanes for parking near the business.
Ford said that while it would have been better for businesses to put the work on hold for the summer, that would have risked slowing the project if work were to proceed through the winter.
“It was never our intent to cause any harm to any business, and I hope he realizes that we’re doing the best that we can,” Ford said of Yamali. “We’re just asking for patience, even if it’s through gritted teeth.”
Yamali, however, remained unappeased. “It’s 85 degrees,” he said on that Friday afternoon. “People just want to sit and enjoy Peter’s, and they took that away from them.”