Reopen News: Citi Bike rack stands in way of survival of landmark West Village restaurant

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- For the last month, the owner of a 100-year-old NYC eatery has asked for a bike rack to be relocated so he can open up more outdoor seating and help save his restaurant.

Business at Gene's Restaurant is down by 90 percent amid the COVID-19 pandemic -- and just to get a section of the rack moved has been blocked by a lot of red tape.

The West Village Institution has been closed for four months for the first time in 100 years, and now the Citibike rack is keeping the restaurant from serving customers on 11th Street.

"With the seating in the street I could put about four more tables there and that's the equivalent of a station," David Ramirez said. "That would mean I could actually hire somebody back."

His furloughed waiters got support from regulars through a GoFundMe, but Ramirez appealed for all their jobs to the mayor's office who referred him to DOT and his councilman speaker Corey Johnson referred his matter to the community board.

All he got back was an email of the Open Restaurant rules.

"The City will not remove nor relocate street furniture," Ramirez said. "It says do not reply to this email, I can't even get someone for a back and forth to explain our predicament and to request an exception to our situation, this is our only location."

His dad started as a waiter at Gene's after emigrating from Spain. He then bought the place in 1979.

"This is the American Dream for my family," Ramirez said.

Gene's restaurant has survived through the Depression and through 9/11.

"I don't see how relocating a bike station would really hurt their bottom dollar and it would help us survive," Ramirez said.

Taking out just eight bikes from one section would still leave 68 bikes on the block.

Ramirez said removing those eight bicycles would help save the three families that the restaurant supports.

"They could transfer the bike station right across the street, just move it right across the street," he said.

Across the street, there aren't any businesses to interfere with.

So 7 On Your Side flagged Lyft, which owns Citibike, the city council and the DOT, and sent them Gene's Restaurant's diagram for proposed socially distant seating, along with photos of the obstruction.

But they still said they wouldn't remove the bikes. When we asked why, they couldn't give an answer. Lyft said the bike stations are the sole responsibility of the city's Department of Transportation.

However, a DOT rep said they won't remove any bikes they termed "essential transportation infrastructure." When 7 On Your Side asked why, nobody at the DOT could give an answer.

Councilman Corey Johnson vowed to keep working with the DOT to find a workable solution.

"Our small businesses are hurting right now and the city should be doing everything we can to help," Johnson said. "Outdoor dining is a lifeline to the small businesses we love and want to see survive and we should be willing to get creative to make it work for as many restaurants as possible. My office will continue working with this local business owner to try and help as best we can."

City Hall official Mitchell Schwartz said NYC has received over 8,200 Open Restaurants participants in under a month.

"We aren't able to relocate essential transit infrastructure for individual applicants," Schwartz said. "We're deeply committed to helping restaurants get back on their feet; we'll connect Mr. Ramirez with all the small business resources available to him to ensure Gene's can serve New Yorkers for the next 100 years."

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