New York, NY – The Occupy Wall Street movement, which says its goals include improving the economic lot for 99 percent of Americans, may have some explaining to do to some cafe workers now out of a job.
Mark Epstein, owner of the Milk Street Cafe at 40 Wall Street, just let 21 employees go.
The reason? The barricades police have set up throughout Wall Street as a consequence of the ongoing demonstration.
In June, he opened the New York branch of the Boston shop, which has a 30 year history. Epstein says he leased the space on Wall Street because it was next to a pedestrian plaza – and his was the only restaurant along that plaza.
“The opening was perfect,” Epstein told CBSNewYork.com. “The food was delicious, the customers were happy, and the line was out the door.”
Customers kept coming back, Epstein said.
“Everything was going in the right direction. Sales continued to grow. We started to build our catering business. Costs were going down. I felt that by October or November we would break even.”
Then the Occupy Wall Street movement launched.
“I came one Monday morning and I found the exit by the 2 or 3 subway station closed. I saw all these barriers – barricades – all up and down my street,” Epstein said. “At first I thought nothing of it, but after a week… it’s been six or seven weeks now.”
Six or seven weeks of marches and occasional clashes between police and protesters. So the barricades have remained in place.
“The end result of it is that it completely destroyed the pedestrian traffic on Wall Street. Completely destroyed it,” Epstein said. “It is a desolate, police-controlled area.”
The cafe has a capacity of 150 seats. At the height of lunch hour Tuesday, Epstein estimated the shop was half full. With those sorts of numbers, he’s had to let people go.
“We eliminated 21 positions in the company,” Epstein said. “First time in 30 years I’ve laid anybody off.”
They’ve also cut back their hours at the New York location, closing now at 3 p.m. instead of 9 p.m.
However, Epstein doesn’t lay all the blame at the feet of Occupy Wall Street.
“I think this is an issue of both Occupy Wall Street and the city officials. There’s protest and how you react to protest,” Epstein said. “If the barriers do not come down, I do not see how we can survive. This has got to become like America again. You have to be free to walk around.”
“Everybody should understand the consequences of their actions,” he said.
Epstein says he’s brought his plight to the attention of city officials and police and has been met with empathy. But the barriers are still in place.
“Everybody’s empathetic and they’ll have lots to say at my eulogy,” he said. “I don’t want to be eulogized. I want the barriers down.”