NYC eateries fear ‘devastating drop in business’ this winter if de Blasio punts on propane heater permit

New York restaurant and bar owners fear their profits could freeze this winter if Mayor de Blasio fails to renew an emergency permit that allows them to use propane heaters for field work.

The permit, first issued by de Blasio in October 2020, lifted a ban on portable propane heaters to keep restaurants and watering points open at a time when back office was banned due to COVID-19. But the waiver expired in the summer, and de Blasio has not said whether he will introduce another before this cold season.

Propane heaters warm guests at The Grisly Pear in Manhattan on February 7, 2021.

Propane heaters warm the guests at The Grisly Pear in Manhattan on February 7, 2021. (Alexi Rosenfeld /)

James Mallios, owner of Amali, a Mediterranean restaurant on the Upper East Side, is concerned.

Mallios said the propane heating permit was “one of the few bright spots” during the pandemic and his restaurant would have collapsed without it.

“No exaggeration, if we didn’t have propane heaters last season, we would be out of business,” said Mallios, who estimated he could lose nearly half of his 75 seats if he couldn’t have propane heaters this winter.

Mallios is one of 85 restaurant and bar owners who sent de Blasio and Council spokesman Corey Johnson a letter in April pleading to keep propane heaters on this winter.

Mallios said none of the men replied to the message. “That was disheartening,” he added.

James Mallios

James Mallios

James Mallios

Raffaello Van Couten, founder of Dolly’s Swing and Dive Bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, said more than half of his business already comes from outdoor customers and envisions it will last through the winter if he can keep his propane burners.

“We’re used to that income because a lot of people are still worried about being inside,” said Van Couten. “The public perception is that when there is heating they have a safe place and when they don’t, I think we’re going to see a really devastating decline in business. It’s a make or break for us. “

Before de Blasio’s emergency approval, propane heating was banned for a long time in commercial and catering establishments due to the risk of fire.

Raffaello Van Couten, owner of Dolly's Swing and Dive in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Raffaello Van Couten, owner of Dolly’s Swing and Dive in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Raffaello Van Couten, owner of Dolly’s Swing and Dive in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

FDNY data shows that there has been no propane explosion or fire in urban restaurants or bars since de Blasio’s order stating that heaters should only be placed on sidewalks and not near street seats.

Still, since the ban was lifted, FDNY inspectors have identified more than 1,200 propane compliance violations and confiscated at least 1,000 improperly stored tanks.

“In some of the most egregious incidents, 20-pound containers of propane were found on streets covered by planters and other items designed to protect vehicles from impact,” said Frank Dwyer, an FDNY spokesman.

Jason Birchard, owner of Veselka in Manhattan's East Village.

Jason Birchard, owner of Veselka in Manhattan’s East Village.

Jason Birchard, owner of Veselka in Manhattan’s East Village.

Mitch Schwartz, a spokesman for de Blasio, said the mayor has not ruled out propane heaters re-permitting this year and is “carefully examining the impact on fire safety”.

“Electric and natural gas heating systems will definitely be fair game,” said Schwartz.

Restaurant owners said electricity and natural gas are poor substitutes for propane.

Jason Birchard, owner of Veselka in the East Village, said electric and natural gas heating is not only much more expensive to run and install – it also doesn’t provide a lot of heat.

“The electric heaters are good in closed cabins, but on the sidewalks? Forget it. It’s like day and night, ”explained Birchard.

Heaters warm people on outdoor seating in Wogies in Manhattan's West Village on February 7, 2021.

Heaters warm people on outdoor seating in Wogies in Manhattan’s West Village on February 7, 2021.

Heaters warm people on outdoor seating at Wogies in Manhattan’s West Village on February 7, 2021. (Alexi Rosenfeld /)

Van Couten agreed, saying last winter “proved that we can use propane safely”.

“Of course, the fire worries have to be alleviated by the fact that we survived a whole season without any problems,” he said.

If de Blasio does not issue further propane approval, Van Counten fears the worst.

“We’ll try again to negotiate with the landlords that we can’t pay the rent and tell our staff we don’t have enough shifts for them – it’s going to be another nightmare thing,” he said. “After everything we’ve been through, it just doesn’t make sense. It feels like nobody is on our side. “

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