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Barricades Removed Near Struggling Restaurant at Occupy Wall Street Protests

Hundreds of police barricades that once blocked a struggling Manhattan eatery were removed on Wednesday, one day after a local restaurant owner said they had forced him to cut 25 percent of his staff after a 30-percent drop in sales since the Occupy Wall Street protests began.

Marc Epstein, owner of the Milk Street Cafe at 40 Wall Street in lower Manhattan, said he had to cut 21 of the 97 members of his staff last week after seeing sales plummet in the six weeks since the protests began. He was also been forced to slash the restaurant operating hours, moving up his closing time from 9 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays.

Epstein was not immediately available for comment, but an employee at the eatery confirmed the development.

Earlier Wednesday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg criticized the protesters for disrupting the neighborhood surrounding Wall Street and Zuccotti Park, the epicenter of the nationwide protests.

"You know I think increasingly you’re seeing that communities, businesses and residents in Lower Manhattan feel that they are the ones that are being occupied. This isn’t an occupation of Wall Street. It’s an occupation of a growing, vibrant residential neighborhood in Lower Manhattan and it’s really hurting small businesses and families," Bloomberg told reporters.

"I don’t think there’s anybody in this city that has been a stronger [defender] of the First Amendment than this administration and I have been," he said. "We’ve worked hard to protect the demonstrators' First Amendment rights, but other people have rights too and I am very concerned about the other peoples’ rights as well as those of the protesters."

Marc LaVorgna, a spokesman for Bloomberg, confirmed that the barricades were removed early Wednesday after discussions between City Hall and NYPD officials.

"It doesn't mean it's permanent," LaVorgna said of the removal. "Situations change and we're constantly monitoring the situation to help businesses and quality of life, while maintaining public safety."

LaVorgna said Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson ate lunch at the restaurant shortly after the barricades were removed.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump, Epstein's landlord, said he was very pleased by the development.

"That's really great for the Epsteins," Trump told FoxNews.com. "This is a great thing."

Trump is unsure of what the move may mean for Zuccotti Park as a whole, but he said he trusts Bloomberg's judgment.

"I'm a big fan of Mike Bloomberg," Trump continued. "I know that he is doing what needs to be done because he is not only the mayor, he's a great New Yorker."

Asked on Tuesday if he felt the protesters realized they were hurting his business, Epstein replied: "I'm very afraid of getting into what they are thinking and whether it's the police or the protesters, because I don't want to get mixed up in the battle between them. But everyone should understand the consequences of their actions and nobody is."

In a statement released Wednesday, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer praised the move, saying it was the "right call."

"Last week I toured the Wall Street area with Deputy Mayor Wolfson, State Senator Squadron and Community Board 1 Chair Julie Menin, and I will continue to work with the City, local elected officials and community leaders to find balance between First Amendment rights and neighborhood quality of life," Stringer's statement read.

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