Sept. 21, 2020 By Michael Dorgan
A number of Sunnyside business owners have noticed a significant uptick in the amount of graffiti that has been scrawled across neighborhood walls, doors–and even trees–in recent weeks.
Eric Barthels, owner of Cooldown Juice, located at 48-19 Skillman Ave., said his store has been hit three times in the past six weeks by vandals spray painting across his front shutter door.
Barthels said that the vandals are constantly tagging his store, often using a plethora of colors as part of their insignia. He said other businesses on Skillman Avenue have also been targeted, with their doors, gates and walls also tagged.
The vandalism in the area goes beyond just the targeting of buildings. Bicycle lanes are also being tagged as well as tree trunks. Many restaurants have seen their outdoor seating areas– built during the pandemic–also tagged.
“There has been an uptick all across the neighborhood on multiple blocks,” Barthels said.
Barthels said that both businesses adjoining his store have been vandalized as well as stores directly across the street.
Many storefronts across Sunnyside have been hit, business owners say.
Jaime-Faye Bean, the director of Sunnyside Shines BID, said that graffiti is on the rise within the organization’s district which covers businesses fronting Queens Boulevard from 38th Street to 50th Street, as well as Greenpoint Avenue from Queens Boulevard to mid-block between 42nd and 43rd Streets.
“There’s definitely been an uptick in the last couple of months, it’s been pretty pronounced,” Bean said.
Bean said that some hotspots include the area around the Capital One Bank, located at 40-20 Queens Blvd., and around Chase Bank, located at 46-10 Queens Blvd.
Vandals, she added, have also been targeting storefronts with poor lighting and ones with recessed entrances.
She said that the sight of defaced buildings and storefronts diminish people’s perception of the area.
“It’s a neighborhood condition that can really impact how a corridor is seen in terms of safety too – it matters,” Bean said. “It can hurt business.”
47-21 Queens Blvd. (Image provided by Jaime-Faye Bean)The rise in graffiti comes at a time when small businesses are already struggling to attract customers due to the coronavirus shutdown.
Sunnyside Shines offers a monthly graffiti removal program that cleans up vandalized areas within the district at no cost to businesses. However, these services do not extend outside the BID district–to businesses on Skillman Avenue, 43rd Avenue and many other streets.
The city also suspended its $3 million Graffiti-Free NYC program in March as the de Blasio administration finds ways to cut costs as the city looks to close a $9 billion budget hole. The program allowed residents and business owners to make a 311 complaint about graffiti and the city would arrange for its free removal.
The loss of the Graffiti Free program means that businesses owners have to clean it and at their own expense.
“In a normal year we would pull together, get some funds and fix it up but we are all struggling right now,” Barthels said.
He said graffiti has a negative effect on the mood of a neighborhood.
“It makes people feel less safe and contributes to other bad behavior and attitudes like littering,” he said.
Barthels said it is particularly frustrating to see temporary outdoor areas for restaurants targeted, given that they were put up at an extra cost for restaurants looking to attract customers.
“It’s definitely not a good thing for our neighborhood,” he said.
Nick Murphy, a co-owner of Bar 43, located on 43-06 43rd St., said that graffiti is on the rise in the neighborhood.
“It is occurring more often but it is also more prevalent because the city is not doing anything about it so it’s just staying up,” Murphy said.
Murphy said that the damage degrades the landscape and charm of the neighborhood.
“The city obviously doesn’t have the money to pay to clean it up,” Murphy said. “It is a real shame.”