(Photo: Flickr/Jagz Mario) The barricades near the Milk Street Cafe, which owner Marc Epstein says have cost him to lay off 21 employees and become in danger of closing his store.

The paradox of Occupy Wall Street's effect on local business is seen in the span of half a New York City block.

Closer to the New York Stock Exchange at 40 Wall St., inside The Trump Building, sits Marc Epstein, the owner of the Milk Street Café. He looks distressed. His business crumbles before his eyes. He recently was forced to lay off 21 people -- his first ever. The reason: security barricades that the New York Police Department laid out near his store that has inadvertently restricted customer access to his business.

But walk down to 60 Wall St., to the public square where a vastly different situation plays out for Mustafa Sav, owner of the Country Café. Business has never been better. And business has been driven by the occupiers.

They came here, and thanks to them, my business is thriving, Sav said of the Occupy Wall Street participants, in an interview with the International Business Times.

It's killing me, said Epstein, back up the street, to IBTimes.

These are the extremes. IBTimes traveled with the Occupy Wall Street nonviolent communication (NVC) team three weeks ago for part of its outreach program to 41 local businesses. IBTimes also performed an independent survey of at least a dozen businesses, both that had been part of the outreach tour and otherwise.

In that survey of dozens of local businesses over the past few weeks around Zuccotti Park -- where the Occupy Wall Street movement continues to gain steam in nearing the two-month mark -- most said it was having little effect.

But in cases of circumstance, like the two businesses within mere feet from each other on Wall Street, there are a few radical swings on the spectrum.


Epstein doesn't want to be a rallying cry for any cause. He offers no opinion on the movement, only that he wishes protesters would better communicate with the NYPD so the barricades that have threatened to end his business will be removed.

It's why, after he has been bombarded with interview requests since announcing he had no choice but to lay off 21 employees, he sighs at one in particular.

It's from conservative radio and Internet television host Glenn Beck.

See, this is what I don't want, Epstein said, after he was handed a note of Beck's interest during this interview with the IBTimes. I want the real media, not the biased media.

The plight of Epstein's café swept through the news cycle after CBS New York made his story public on Nov. 1. Epstein has owned another Milk Street Café in Boston for 30 years. He came to New York two years ago and decided that 40 Wall Street was too beautiful of a spot to have paper bags lining its windows.

He borrowed money and got a guarantee from the U.S. Small Business Administration. He opened New York's Milk Street Café in June, hiring 100 employees.

Business boomed. It climbed for about three months, and Epstein thought he would finally break even in November or December.

Then in mid-September, he saw the barricades. He also saw the steep turn that followed in customer attendance in business. A shocking turn -- almost overnight.

I never saw this coming, Epstein said of the effects of Occupy Wall Street. If it doesn't get resolved soon, I'll be out of business.

The NYPD explained to Epstein that a general lack of communication with marchers from Occupy Wall Street had caused barriers to be put in place in sensitive areas. The New York Stock Exchange was sensitive area No. 1. The NYPD did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the barricades.

The effects proved drastic. Epstein said one regular customer that had come nearly every day during the café's first three months didn't come for a month because of the barricades. The area is already sensitive in perception with its proximity to Ground Zero, so tourists flocked in fewer numbers.

He said he had no choice.

My only layoff in 30 years, Epstein said. It was horrible. They were wonderful people.


Down the street, the occupiers file into the public square, usually around 4 or 5 p.m. They come for 40 Wall Street's proximity to Zuccotti Park. They come to charge phones and computers. They come for the space, chairs, and recently, to stay warm.

And while they're there, they take the opportunity to grab a bite or buy tea or coffee from Sav's Country Café.

I'm just very happy for the protesters to be here. I wish they would never go, Sav said. I wish they would be here forever. Not only for being customers of ours, but I see only positives from this -- nothing negative.

But there was a negative in the occupation's first few weeks. Though a wall of barricades was never erected in front of his café, the reduced foot traffic from tourists took its toll on Sav and his business. He estimated it fell 30 percent.

Some lows we have almost never seen, he said.

However, in this story of drastic swings, Sav's came almost overnight as well. Sav has recovered -- and then some. He estimated that profits have more than doubled from that low time.  

At the end of September, his business was failing. Three weeks ago, it was so good that Sav decided to try opening his doors on Saturdays, attempts at which had failed miserably in the past.

Now, for the past three weeks, he has stayed open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and he's thinking about expanding to 10 p.m. -- when the square closes.

I tried a few times, but it never worked, Sav said. This time, it worked.

Sav hired two new employees, one of which was a longtime friend of almost 40 years that had been a part-time waiter in Long Island. Now he has a full-time job.

He is gracious to those that have given him business. Sometimes he gives out free food and beverages. Other times, he opens the door to the employee bathroom.

He is sympathetic to the Occupy Wall Street cause. He doesn't understand the fear of these nice, orderly people that are peaceful in the public square and help his business. He blames the NYPD for setting up barricades against people that he thinks pose no credible threat.

It's very moving to see all kinds of people -- rich, poor. America is here. My customers are from all kinds of facets of life, Sav said.

And in all of his 21 years in the same spot, Sav said he's probably never been more profitable.


Telly Liberatos, the owner of Liberatos Pizza on Cedar Street, localized Occupy Wall Street. He did that with a version of his famed local pie. He called it the Occu-pie, a $15 large pie with a topping.

I'm all about community, Liberatos said in a phone interview. I want to see everybody work together and re-establish ourselves in this neighborhood.

With the success of the Occu-pie and the status as Occupy Wall Street's unofficial pizza supplier -- Liberatos said he received donations of pies to the occupiers globally -- Liberatos grew 25 to 35 percent in a three-week span, he said.


(Photo: Reuters) Heavier tents at Zuccotti Park are a sign that Occupy Wall Street is here to stay, which makes some business owners happy and others cringe.

But since that boom, business has leveled off. Now, Liberatos stands as one of many businesses that have been affected by Occupy Wall Street periodically but are mostly going about business as usual.

Liberatos said his pizza shop has lost business since 2008, when AIG collapsed and moved out of 70 Pine Street. Occupy Wall Street has helped bring business back to flat, and even some positive, levels.

What they did do for me is help me also get publicity, he said. Any kind of publicity is good publicity. Customers, out of curiosity, walked in and recognized prices are very reasonable. I've gotten a lot of new, steady customers now.

I want everybody to work together, to establish a community that was lost after it died out the past couple years.

Of the more than 40 businesses surveyed by the Occupy Wall Street team and IBTimes, most had only minor complaints or minor reports of surges.

Some of the more noteworthy:

  • At Pret a Manger on Broad Street a block and a half away from Zuccotti Park, manager Jose Montero told the IBTimes business grew around 15 percent in the first few weeks. It was kind of massive, he said. He said the protestors typically come in, buy things and sit down, which was fine with him.
  • At 21 Jewelry on Cortland Street, manager Danny Nia said he had seen a downturn because he felt that customers were scared to come to the area.
  • Kevin, a manager at Modell's on Broadway, told the Occupy Wall Street team that he had experienced an increase in sales of white T-shirts and camping supplies, including tents.
  • A manager at Brooks Brothers, surrounded by barricades across from the park, told the IBTimes, pointedly, We don't want to comment on any of that.
  • A manager at Men's Warehouse across the street from Zuccotti Park, told the Occupy Wall Street team that the barricades had somewhat slowed business.


The barricades are staying put for now, and every week that the Milk Street Café stays open, Marc Epstein considers it a minor miracle.

Like the story of Hanukkah, Epstein said.

Epstein has spoken to the NYPD, as high up as Chief Joe Esposito, but he is a victim of circumstance. The NYPD removed the barriers last Wednesday, but had to put back half of them. This was because the NYPD learned protesters would try to take advantage of this and lie down in the street near the NYSE, Epstein said Esposito told him.

While the removal of half the barricades has helped business, Epstein said it's not enough. He wants Occupy Wall Street to understand that while it is fighting unemployment, it's indirectly putting him out of business.

Everybody has to understand the consequences of their actions, Epstein said. Nobody is taking that into account.