Merchants, workers brace for WSMC shut-down

Community leader Lou Rocco (l) and Fitz Stewart (r), the owner of Royal Caribbean American Restaurant hold signs reading “The Bronx deserves the best care; Save Westchester Square Hospital.”
Photo by Patrick Rocchio
by Patrick Rocchio

Workers at Westchester Square Medical Center and local merchants are bracing to take an economic hit once it closes as an in-patient hospital.

A number of merchants in Westchester Square and on Zerega Avenue are especially concerned over loss of business, some saying it could hit their earnings by as much as 25%.

Montefiore Medical Center, which won a state-funded bid in bankruptcy court for the hospital’s assets, plans to turn the hospital into an out-patient facility with an ambulatory surgery center and full-service emergency department, with ER patients in need of admission transferred to nearby in-patient facilities.

It has committed to rehire nurses and unionized workers among the 586 employees who will be laid off when WSMC closes in March. It will re-open as Montefiore Westchester Square.

“It is Montefiore’s intention to offer employment to all qualified nurses and members of 1199, the service employees’ union,” Montefiore, which operates a major healthcare system, said in a statement. “We will work within our system to create positions consistent with our clinical demands.”

“ripple effect”

Montefiore said in a statement that it is “confident” that once in operation at the facility, “we will provide a continued base of customers and revenue for local businesses.”

But many of the local merchants – particularly take-out food, flower, and gift shops – say they are bracing to take an economic hit when the in-patient facility closes.

Stephen Villano, owner of Flower Connection at 2652 E. Tremont Ave., said people working in or visiting WSMC generate 20-25% of his business.

“It is a ripple effect,” said Villano, who has regular accounts at the hospital.

“You know, 580 jobs is a lot of pocket money for a lot of people,” he said, noting that if every WSMC spends $15 a day locally, it totals millions of dollars annually.

“It is going to kill my business,” said Villano, who already has seen a 30% drop from the recession and slow recovery.

At Real Taste Caribbean American Restaurant at 1444 Williamsbridge Road, owner Fitz Stewart said he would lose much of his business.

“We have a good relationships with the workers over there,” said Stewart. “They eat here on their lunch break, and sometimes we deliver to them.”

Hospital helps

“My main concern is that around here it is not really busy in the commercial area, so the hospital really helps us,” he said.

At Frank & Joe’s Deli at 1700 Zerega Avenue, co-owner Roxana Bennaton said WSMC generates about 10% of their business.

“We always have calls for delivery to the hospital,” she said, “and this place has been delivering there for 60 years.”

“A lot of the workers have been there for many years and now those people are looking for a job,” she added.

Both Bennaton and Frazana Hossian at J&F Discount at 1570 Zerega Ave. said that WSMC brings a lot of people into the Zerega area who would not otherwise be there, and many become their customers.

Sam Ata, the brother of the owner at Total Parcel and Shipping at 1442 Willamsbridge Road, said that many people going to an appointment at WSMC come in to make purchases at the shop.
Even Pete Hernandez at Santwer Locksmith at 1446 Williamsbridge Road in Westchester Square said he gets business from WSMC.

“The maintenance men come in here sometimes to make keys,” he said, adding he also receives calls for lock service from the hospital.

Patrick Rocchio can be reach via e-mail at or by phone at (718) 742-3393

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