River Avenue ballpark businesses in a rage

Joseph and John Michialis of Billy’s Sports Bar are angry at the city and the Bronx Bombers. Business is slow on E. 161st Street and River Avenue. Photo by Victor Chu

Linda Zale is frustrated. Game day after game day, Zale stands on River Avenue and watches Yankee fans skip Ballpark Souvenir. Day after game day, she stands on River Avenue and watches her small shop die.

John and Linda Zale did snappy business for two decades in the shadow of the old Yankee Stadium. Ballpark Souvenir sits on the east side of River Avenue between E. 158th Street and E. 157th Street. In April, the Bronx Bombers moved to the new Yankee Stadium and the city prepared to demolish The House That Ruth Built. Business at Ballpark Souvenir collapsed.

“I had to let two [employees] go,” Linda Zale said.

The city has erected a temporary closed sidewalk on the west side of River Avenue, next to the old Yankee Stadium. Yankee fans who enter the sidewalk at E. 157th Street don’t emerge until E. 161st Street, where Hard Rock Café beckons. In other words, the fans miss Ballpark Souvenir, Ballpark Lanes, Ballpark Sports Bar and other small shops. River Avenue shop owners met 161st Street Merchants Association consultant Ann Abraham Lindsey and Department of Transportation agents at Ballpark Lanes on Tuesday, June 23 to discuss common issues.

“I see the fans look at our shop,” Linda Zale said. “I see them hold the [sidewalk] fence and point. The situation is pathetic.”

On June 23, shop owners asked the DOT to open a segment of the River Avenue sidewalk fence three hours before and one hour after each Yankee home game. The DOT is amendable to the proposal but the NYC Economic Development Corporation and the police department are in charge, said DOT spokesman Monty Dean. The EDC has yet to render a decision. It will weigh safety concerns, spokeswoman Janel Patterson said. Business at Ballpark Souvenir is down 80 percent, John Zale said. If the EDC refuses to open the sidewalk fence, the shop will go bust before October.

There are other issues. The new Metro North station at E. 153rd Street is not River Avenue friendly. It offers a direct off-street route to the new stadium. On the el and underground, MTA workers steer subway patrons to an exit on the north side of E. 161st Street. When the subway patrons step out, MTA workers point to the stadium. Few subway patrons head the opposite direction, to Yankee Tavern and Billy’s Sports Bar.

“The MTA is impeding pedestrian traffic,” Yankee Tavern owner Joe Bastone said.

John Michialis works at Billy’s; his father owns the bar. The city wants to dislodge the shops on E. 161st Street and River Avenue, Michialis said. The city smells big-time development. If the shops on E. 161st Street and River Avenue fail, the neighborhood will nosedive, Bastone said. The Mets dismantled Shea Stadium in six months; there’ll be work on River Avenue at least until 2011. Lindsey will ask MTA-Metro North to install a sign or kiosk alerting Metro North patrons to the shops on River Avenue. MTA workers are posted at River Avenue and E. 161st Street to keep the intersection safe, spokesman Kevin Ortiz said.

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