The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge toll hikes are going into effect on Sunday and small business owners in Bay Ridge are worried that the now more expensive bridge-crossing will keep away their Staten Island customers.
On Sunday, the cash-toll on Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge will rise from $13 to $15. Drivers who use E-ZPass will have to pay $10.66—about a $1 increase. Registered Staten Island residents who have an E-ZPass will pay $6.36 instead of $5.76. For those who make more than three trips in a month, MTA gives a discount —the price will roll back to $6 after the third trip. But businesses in Bay Ridge figure drivers will trim back on the number of times they cross to save money.
“Cutting back on trips is going to cut off the business,” said Joe Callegari who for the last 20 years has been working in Mr. Vacuum, a vacuum cleaner repair shop on Fifth Avenue in Bay Ridge.
Callegari said that Staten Islanders come to Mr. Vacuum quite often. Most of them are loyal customers, who once lived in Brooklyn. Callegari fears that he will lose these clients after Sunday’s price hikes.
“They’ll have to pay $15 to drop off the vacuum and $15 to get it back,” Callegari said explaining that majority of the vacuum repairs take more than one day.
A jewelry storeowner, Alexander Chulyakov said that about one third of his customers are Russian immigrants who tend to live on Staten Island’s East Shore, which is just across the Verrazano-Narrows bridge. Allured by a short distance and service in their native language, Russian customers often come to Quick Fix Jewelers to repair their watches or re-size their rings. Chulyakov worries this will change after Sunday.
“If they’re changing the battery for $8 and it costs them $15 plus gas (to come here) then the math is easy,” Chulyakov said adding that his Staten Island customers would probably search for shops on the other side of the bridge.
Sunday’s Verrazano-Narrows price change is the fourth since 2008 when the fare increased to $10. Nelson Landaverde who has been working in Maxi Foto, a picture printing and framing shop, for 28 years said that each toll increase affected the sales in the store.
“The business is still slow after Sandy,” he said. “I don’t want to think of what would happen if you add higher tolls on top of that.”
Landaverde knows his clients by name. He has been framing their pictures from graduations, weddings and family vacations for years but said that everyone is now watching their wallets. Saving a few dollars might be more important than the store loyalty, Landaverde said.
“They’ll find other places on the island,” he added.