City shutters Willets shops

Business owners Jamie Sabeti (l.) Basam Abdul (c.) and Akram Mohibi (r.) blast the city for shutting down their shops. Photo by Joe Anuta
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A group of Willets Point auto shops shut down by the city last week are hoping to reopen soon, according to a community organizer affiliated with some of the tenants.

Business owners said Friday’s closure of a host of locations along 126th Street was an act of intimidation, but city officials said shoddy construction was the only culprit.

“This is harassment,” said Sergio Aguirre, who works with several of the businesses operating in Willets Point.

Inspectors from the city Department of Buildings arrived at 38-01 126th Street and shut down five auto shops which, according to inspectors, had been illegally subdivided.

Basam Abdul is the owner of Spotless Muffler on the corner of 126th Street and 38th Avenue. He said city inspectors came without warning and shuttered his business, leaving him without a source of income.

“I’ve lost my life. My son is in college. My daughter is in college,” he said, adding that he also has two children in public school. “I am here 15 years. I pay taxes.”

The inspectors issued an order to vacate the five businesses, citing conditions “imminently perilous to life,” according to a sign posted on Abdul’s business.

Many of the business owners felt they were being unfairly targeted because they are located where developers and the city plan to build part of the $3 billion project to redevelop Willets Point.

The project is set to proceed in three phases, with the first and second portions requiring the businesses in question to be torn down.

In fact, the city has already purchased the property where the five businesses are located, along with most of the other parcels in the area, in anticipation of kicking off the project next year, meaning that the tenants’ landlord is the city Department of Housing and Presevation.

“[The city] has got to fix this. It was not built yesterday,” said Ahmad Azatullah, whose cousin owns one of the shops.

But according to Housing Preservation, because the shops are commercial businesses, the onus is on the tenants to make the repairs.

Buildings said the only motivation behind the shutdown was a simple case of the tenants not filing the proper permits. Inspectors also shut down a set of businesses across the street.

They, too, had an order to vacate put on their property, citing perilous conditions, but it was an order from 2009 that was enforced Friday.

“If we are doing anything illegal, let us know. We have families to feed,” said Akram Mohibi, who owns Discount Muffler.

Buildings said that Mohibi’s shop was built without proper structural reinforcements and needed to be remedied.

Several properties in Willets Point have orders to vacate, according to Buidlings records. In fact, another property on the same block as Abdul’s had an order to vacate from 2009, but was not shut down Friday.

Several days later, a group of the business owners reached out to City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst), who is working with the city to address the violations.

Aguirre hoped they could reopen within a week, but a spokeswoman for the councilwoman said it was not clear how soon the violations could be remedied.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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