Diamond Cycle, a bike shop in downtown Montclair, has had its ups and downs during its 110 years of business on Bloomfield Avenue — two world wars, the Great Depression, the 2008 recession, the pandemic. Still, nothing quite compares to the tribulations inflicted by the construction of the Glenridge Avenue parking deck.
Groundbreaking for the 200-spot deck, hailed as the answer to downtown’s perennial parking problems, took place in January 2021, and it was completed on schedule in January. But the deck has sat empty since then. Local business owners only recently received official notice from the town as to the reason: A narrow alleyway between Diamond Cycle and Trend Coffee Shop, leading from the garage to Bloomfield Avenue, does not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The new construction, which forced the closure of the previous surface lot on Glenridge Avenue, has caused a host of problems for local businesses such as Ani Ramen restaurant, Trend Coffee Shop and Cameron Animal Hospital, including a lack of parking and an infestation of rats after the removal of dumpsters in back of their shops.
But for Craig Cornell, who has owned Diamond Cycle for 34 years, the lack of a place to accept deliveries of new bicycles and for customers to drop off and pick up their bikes has been particularly devastating. Without access from Glenridge Avenue, customers are forced to drop off and pick up their bikes on Bloomfield Avenue, where parking is next to impossible. 
With most of the limited spots marked as loading zones, customers must park blocks away or double-park and wind their bikes through cars on the busy county road. Cornell has begun offering a delivery service, but if he takes the van on a run, he loses the spot in front of his business. 
And he has to wrestle the bulky, 50-pound bicycle boxes from where they’re delivered on Glenridge Avenue over walls and through walkways behind his building. 
His business is down 70% or 80%, he said, and his inventory, ordered a year earlier in anticipation of a busy spring, sits unsold. 
“I’m losing tens of thousands of dollars, I’m struggling to keep my staff employed, struggling to pay my vendors,” he said. “I’m struggling to survive.”
What rankles Cornell more, though, is the radio silence from the town. 
“This was supposed to be finished in January, and there’s been zero communication,” he said. “I’ve written the town manager many emails. He does not respond. I put all the blame on him; it’s his responsibility to do this properly, and he didn’t do his job. Period.”
At the June 21 Township Council meeting, Cornell addressed the manager, Tim Stafford: “Two months ago I was here. I was in a desperate situation and asked, ‘Can I get some answers?’ I’m at risk of losing my business because of the incompetence of this project. Nothing, nothing! It’s terrible how I’ve been treated.”  
Jason Gleason, director of Montclair’s Business Improvement District, spoke to the council for the fourth time at the meeting (and said there were “many times behind closed doors”), calling the situation an “abject failure of communication on the part of the town.”
“The recent lack of transparency and absence of communication is completely unacceptable.” he said. 
Former Planning Board member Martin Schwartz said, “It’s somewhat strange that the issues were not picked up earlier by the Building Department, architect or the inspectors who visit the site during the building process. It’s a complete disconnect why the alleyway would be tying up the opening of the deck.” 
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Stafford confirmed that the deck failed because the alley did not comply with ADA requirements and that he doesn’t have a “date certain” when the deck will open. He said it is up to the state Building Department’s code official. “I don’t even have a proposed date,” he said.
At the meeting’s end, the council voted to fund $200,000 to make the alleyway between two hundred-year-old buildings compliant to the extent possible. After a second vote in July, work to fix the problem can begin, according to an email from Councilor Peter Yacobellis. He added that the council was looking into whether they can “begin the work immediately and backfill with the new funding later.”
Cornell is running out of time and wants the town to figure out a temporary fix immediately. 
At the council meeting, Matt Hourigan, a member of the board of the Montclair Business Improvement District, said that opening temporary ingress and egress for Diamond Cycle should be “relatively simple.” 
“There are creative ways to do it,” he said. “I can tell you right now, if this were a private project, it would be open.”
In fact, Cornell said he recently started having customers pull up to a parking area on Glenridge Avenue near the garage’s walkway so they could bring their bikes to the back of the shop. But he got a threatening letter from Stafford and had to stop customers from using the workaround. 
“I took matters in my own hands to make safe passage to get to the back of my store, and that’s the only time I hear from you, a legal threat,” he said to Stafford at the meeting. “I did it to try and save my business.”
There are other issues with the construction, Cornell said. The ceiling of the deck’s first level is too low for his van, a UPS truck, or even for a garbage truck to empty the dumpsters. Also, he won’t be able to drive his car to the back of his store, since a neighbor’s parking spots block his access. And bollards will block customers from accessing the back of his property, to prevent deck patrons from skipping out on paying for parking.
“I invited Mr. Stafford numerous time to come down here,” he said. “I’ve been here 34 years. I know everything, I know how the water flows. Let me show you; let me talk to you. I’m a reasonable person. Nothing. Nothing. It’s very sad.” 
Julia Martin is the 2021 recipient of the New Jersey Society for Professional Journalists’ David Carr award for her coverage of Montclair for NorthJersey.com.
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Email: jmartin@gannettnj.com
Twitter: @TheWriteJulia 

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