It’s been a while since I have gone back to Willets Point. Eni and I went to visit a week ago armed with photos we had taken on the last few trips to give back to the people we photographed last time we were there. We were surprised and delighted to see many of the same people we had photographed before. They were really happy that we returned and gave them back something. We were also able to create some more interesting photos.
One thing I noticed was how much the area has change. The first photo below is from my first trip there in 2014 and the photo on the right is what is there now. They are turning this part into a parking lot. Right next-door is a huge parking lot that sits empty most of the time so I am not sure why someone felt compelled to build another one. The car in the photo on the right belonged to the security guard there who told me I was not allowed to take photos there. In three years of taking photos there, this was the first time I was told that.
While finding and giving out some of the photos, we meet one of the owners of several properties in Willets Point. He owns at last one full block, if not more. He did not want to be photographed, but was more than willing to talk to us. His name is Eli and he bought the property in the 80’s for 1.6 million. He told us his wife thought he was crazy. Now they are offering money in the range of 50 million and he still refuses to sell it. Eli told me that a lot of people depend on him for jobs and for an affordable place to get their cars fixed. Otherwise they would pay double to get it fixed at most garages in the city. After Eli is gone, maybe his kids or wife will sell it, but not while he is still living. The problem that Willets Point faces now, according to Eli, is that half the building are empty now and the city has done nothing with them leaving it open for drug addicts to use late at night. Business is also down because people are not coming as much. They think that nobody is there anymore working on cars.
Across the street from Eli is Ali who has had a business in Willets Point for over 20 years. He ran it with his brother Frank, who has passed away. Ali told us that he rents from someone who also owns a large section of Willets Point. He pays $10,000 a month and is worried that at any moment they could sell he would have to move. We asked where he would go and he was not sure. Ali came from Afghanistan back in the 80’s with his family. He is extremely knowledgeable about cars and has a mental record of every part in his garage. Ali’s main complaint was the lack of infrastructure in Willets Point. He could not get Verizon out to his place to fix the Internet; he relies on a computer system that he uses to see if other garages have parts his customer needs. There is no sewer system and therefore no bathrooms there. Customers ask all the time and he has to tell them no. The roads have not been paved in ages, even though they pay a lot of money in taxes.
It was good to be back and take more photos in Willets Point. We talked to a lot of people and heard some interesting stories. I will have some more posted soon.