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Few Clouds 38° Good Afternoon

No Mets fans here: Citi Field-area auto shops say World Series games 'kill' business

Arturo Olaya, owner of Arthur's Auto Trim, works

Arturo Olaya, owner of Arthur's Auto Trim, works on his client's car where he works in Flushing on Oct. 27, 2015. Photo Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang

With a shrug and a glance toward Citi Field across 126th Street from his garage in Willets Point, the owner of New Pamir Auto Repair put it bluntly.

"When someone takes food off your children's table, you can't be a fan of theirs," said the owner, a 40-something Afghan immigrant who goes by the single name Pamir.

"Actually, I'm not against the Mets," Pamir said, nodding toward a tribute to the pro-Mets sentiments of his three sons -- a giant graffiti-style mural featuring the Mets mascot that covers the north wall of his garage. "But they are not for us."

The roaring success the Mets have achieved this year inside the ballpark has elicited mostly groans among the few remaining shop owners who toil in the "Iron Triangle" auto repair district just beyond the centerfield wall.

Barely hanging on in the face of revitalization pressure that has ousted many neighboring shops like so many playoff also-rans, Pamir and others say World Series traffic further chokes businesses already threatened by stadium-related real estate development.

"Mets games, we always lose money," said Arturo Olaya, a Colombian immigrant who for 22 years has run his Arthur's Auto Trim out of mostly rented shops in this desolate district built on the ash heaps of F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby."

"The police close the streets, the traffic is terrible, the place is becoming a ghost town because of all these promised projects," said Olaya, who said he is no fan of the Mets. "Business gets cut to 10 percent some days, some days to zero."

The two businessmen are among a dwindling number of by-their-bootstraps entrepreneurs who are fighting to stay afloat amid this down-at-the-heels warren of used tire sellers, rim repair shops, and fender-unbender businesses that stretch east from the 6-year-old taxpayer-subsidized Citi Field.

Already feeling unloved by a city government they say has allowed the potholed streets in this community of immigrant businessmen to go unplowed and unpaved, owners here say the city is shifting the burden of the Mets' success onto them.

"This will kill my business," said Miguel Ortiz, whose Gonzalez Muffler Auto Mechanic shop stands at the end of 38th Avenue, 600 feet past the rightfield foul pole. "When the games come, they close the street."

An air of uncertainty has gripped this community since long before the Mets embarked on this brilliant 2015 season.

In 2007, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg advanced plans to purchase the roughly 30 acres that house the auto repair community and remediate the effects of years of oil leaks and gasoline spills, then turn it over to a development group led by the Wilpon family, which owns the Mets. The developers have promised to build a sparkling urban mall that would include some 200 shops, a hotel, a theater and 2,500 apartments.

Mayor Bill de Blasio hopes to renegotiate details of the plan to close loopholes he says would let the developer walk away from a commitment to include affordable housing.

Little of this matters among the shrinking ranks of business owners and auto care employees who do their work along the area's gritty, pockmarked streets. They say the city's offer to help the remaining business owners relocate to the Bronx -- many of the original 130 shops in the area have already moved -- is too little to do them much good.

They also say that the Mets have been allowed to benefit, while they have been left with little to show for it.

Ortiz, who opened the five-employee shop 10 years ago with his uncle, Rafael Gonzalez, received an eviction notice in August, part of the city's action to make way for the developers.

"Nobody wants to go to the Bronx and pay the toll," Ortiz said of the city's offer to help him relocate. "I'll lose my customers."

A spokesman for the city's development arm said the city has provided at least $6 million in relocation assistance to shop owners in the area.

"We have already helped more than 120 businesses relocate by providing substantial financial assistance, business advisory and workforce assistance programs, as well as helping with the identification of appropriate business locations in which they can continue to operate and thrive," Economic Development Corporation spokesman Anthony Hogrebe said in a statement.

A spokesman for the Mets declined to comment.

Olaya said the uncertainty over the fate of the neighborhood led to his lease not being renewed on the shop he once operated a half block from Citi Field's Entrance 11. He now runs his auto upholstery business out of a converted shuttle bus he parks a little further down on 36th Avenue. Last week, an employee stitched a new top for a Mustang convertible parked next to the van under the open sky.

Uncertainty again hangs over Zack Arzo, 39, who began running his muffler and body shop more than a decade before work began on the stadium in 2006.

An affable Richmond Hill father of five, Arzo fled Soviet communist rule in his native Afghanistan in 1989. Now, American capitalism may push Arzo from his adopted place of work, hard by Flushing Bay.

"It could be a week, it could be a month, it could be tomorrow, we don't know," he said of the possibility that, now six years after its construction, Citi Field's presence may force him out.

"We thought they would leave us alone. We never thought they would do what they did."

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