With Business Declining, Punjabi Grocery & Deli Fights DOT and CB3 for Taxi Relief Stand on East Houston

Posted on: April 27th, 2015 at 4:58 am by
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Punjabi Grocery & Deli can’t catch a break. The city, in its infinite wisdom, continues to steamroll the twenty-year-old Lower East Side mainstay.

As a lifeblood for cabbies, this small sub-level pit stop has offered refuge since its inception on the block in 1994. The family-owned establishment is open 24 hours, making it an attractive break spot for drivers to grab a cup of tea and/or vegetarian food at insanely affordable price points. Or use the bathroom.

While the block was never designated an official “relief stand” – it was previously metered parking – tradition had made it so. Such was the equilibrium until the city began to tear up East Houston Street, wrecking quality-of-life, causing floods, and epic sinkholes.

True change commenced in 2010, when the doorstep of Punjabi (and Meltzer Towers) was mandated a storage area for the ongoing construction. Their entrance was completely blocked, forcing cabs to park on the far curb. Adding insult to injury, a “No Standing” sign followed. Also, the pavement outside its doors has since been filled in to create a pedestrian plaza.

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For Punjabi Deli, it’s 5 years of roadwork at the doorstep

Meanwhile, business continues the downward spiral. Owner Jashon Singh reveals that sales are down some 60% in five years’ time, thanks in large part to the roadwork and lack of overall parking. Cabbies are the heart-and-soul bolstering the bottom line. “[Construction] has brought us to the brink,” he notes rather matter-of-factly.

Last summer, however, Punjabi began to fight back, organizing an online petition urging the Department of Transportation to designate a taxi stand out front. There are more than 3,500 signatures of support. Ownership has been sending letters to the DOT and Councilwoman Rosie Mendez, both of whom remain mum. Their proposal is to create a taxi stand comprised of seven parking spaces on East Houston and two additional spots on the bend of East First Street. Neither would impede traffic.

The Department of Design and Construction, for its part, has been in communication with Punjabi, but implementing this traffic change is not within their jurisdiction.

The DOT has been unwilling to talk to, or meet with Singh, according to their lawyer/advocate Ali Najmi. Instead, the city agency is forcing the operators to wait until after Community Board 3 considers the matter next month. This directive isn’t sitting well, though, since there’s apparently been some behind-the-scenes meddling with the application itself. Punjabi accuses the DOT of “rearranging” their CB3 proposal – without consultation – to include a different taxi stand around the corner on Avenue A (4 spots).

“It’s way far down and not what we requested,” Singh says. “[Changing the agenda item] is completely unethical and unprofessional considering DOT hasn’t given us even five minutes of their time.”

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Punjabi Deli is a haven for cabbies

Why is the DOT so hell-bent on ensuring no taxi stand here? It’s clear that the agency is looking to railroad Punjabi by only allowing discussions once their proposal is considered. “[DOT] couldn’t articulate a reason why the relief station can’t be on East Houston,” Najmi tells us. All signs point to the fact that the city has little intention of working with the longtime business.

Punjabi has been in contact with District Manager Susan Stetzer, and even requested to have the “correct” agenda item listed. She reportedly refused, saying the applicants needed to take it up with DOT.

“We are willing to compromise and we have been patient for five years, but we can’t sit idly by anymore. They can’t treat small business like this,” Singh intimates.

You can show your support for Punjabi next month, date still TBD.


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