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As Deadline Looms, Pressure Turned Up On Willets Point Business Owners

12 Months' Rent Offered, But Not For Much Longer; Remaining Owners Angry

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Hundreds of small businesses in Queens face a crucial deadline Saturday. They must agree to move, or lose city money to help with relocation.

It’s the latest effort to clear out Willets Point, CBS 2’s Tony Aiello reported Friday.

Tire guy B.J. Kumar is one of the Willets Point holdouts refusing so far to accept a city offer of 12 months’ rent to clear out.

“How I sign when I have no other place where I go?” Kumar said.

The 62-acre jumble of auto shops and scrap metal dealers is an odd rundown corner of Queens. Located in the shadow of Citi Field, developers will build a new $3 billion neighborhood with shopping, condos and hotels.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg says it will create hundreds of jobs and millions in tax revenue, but the development means evicting hundreds of small businesses — many owned by immigrants.

So far, about 300 businesses that used to operate in the area have either shut down or packed up and relocated. The remaining empty storefronts just add to the desolate feel of what’s left at Willets Point.

“There’s going to be over 2,700 displaced employees,” Willets Point worker Alexander Dominguez said.

Dominguez is one of many who claim a city offer to retrain workers and relocate businesses has been woefully inadequate.

“I don’t see any dollars. I don’t see any place. I only see my friends they close their business,” business owner Cris Lara said.

For Bob Viala, who owns Flushing Auto Salvage and has spent 31 years in Willets Point, the deadline means little.

“We are not taking it. We are not moving out,” Viala told WCBS 880’s Jim Smith. “The money is really nothing at all.”

Customers say the city is losing a unique neighborhood where any vehicle can be repaired on the cheap.

“If the city had put money and effort into this area, make it a nice place to conduct business, it wouldn’t be in the shape it is today,” customer Jerry Freund said.

City marshals were busy Friday padlocking businesses that have agreed to move out, while the holdouts pondered their next move.

After Saturday, the city’s offer of 12 months’ rent for businesses that relocate will be slashed to six months’ rent. Businesses that do not accept that deal by the end of January will get nothing, Aiello reported.

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