Nov. 30, 2021 By Michael Dorgan
The Sunnyside holiday lights typically mark the beginning of the festive shopping season and a bumper few weeks for local merchants.
However, this year, about one-third of the installations that typically line Greenpoint Avenue and Queens Boulevard have not gone up since the DOT is strictly enforcing its own safety guidelines.
Nine out of the 26 installations are not up this year – despite the same installations going up in the same locations in previous years, according to Sunnyside Shines, which oversees the Sunnyside Business Improvement District (BID) and organizes the lights.
The decision has infuriated business leaders – who argue that the lights promote commerce and that the DOT’s strict enforcement is hurting the local economy and small business owners.
“It’s the season for cheer, but @NYC_DOT has chosen to kick our small businesses when they’re already down,” a tweet posted Monday by Sunnyside Shines reads. “Greenpoint Avenue and its merchants need every lifeline they can give them right now. Our small businesses need to be back in the black, not stuck in the dark.”
The tweet was accompanied by a picture of Greenpoint Avenue without holiday lights.
The holiday lights are an annual Sunnyside tradition and have been going up on the Queens Boulevard and Greenpoint Avenue corridors since 2008 to promote the district. The light fixtures are the same each year, featuring snowflake designs and various signage.
The lights on Greenpoint Avenue came under the most scrutiny from the DOT.
Jaime-Faye Bean, executive director of Sunnyside Shines, said the DOT rejected many of the lights that were supposed to go up along that stretch.
The DOT, Bean said, informed Sunnyside Shines that the lights didn’t meet minimum height requirements—posing a risk to drivers who may become distracted by the low-hanging structures.
Some installations on the south side of Queens Boulevard were also flagged. They were rejected, she said, for being too close to traffic signals, pedestrian lights or the 7 line viaduct structure. Most of the lights on the north side of Queens Boulevard have gone up without issue.
The DOT, in a statement, said that some of the proposed installations were not approved for safety reasons. The agency cited electrical issues as the reason but did not go into detail.
“We look forward to helping every neighborhood embrace the holiday spirit, but safety always comes first,” said Vin Barone, a spokesperson for the DOT.
The DOT, however, now appears to be taking a softer approach following the BID’s tweet.
Bean said the DOT gave Sunnyside Shines verbal approval for the full set of lights to go up shortly after the tweet was posted.
As a result, the BID is now working with its subcontractor to erect the remaining installations later this week, Bean said.
Nevertheless, she is still concerned that the agency may go back on its word. She also criticized the DOT for the debacle since the fixtures go up at the same spots every year.
Bean said the delay hurts local small businesses since the lights attract customers to the neighborhood and create a vibrant shopping environment.
“It’s very frustrating and it just seems like the wrong thing to focus on after everything businesses have been through,” Bean said.
“There are so many pedestrian and road traffic safety issues around New York City and for [holiday lights] to be the one focus on seems to be so tone-deaf, priorities are out of whack.”