Cafe Owner Says He Was Forced to Cut Staff by Nearly a Fourth Because of 'Occupy' Protests

A New York City cafe cut its staff by nearly 25 percent last week because of lost business due to the ongoing Occupy Wall Street protests, the cafe's owner told

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 on Thursday and Friday after seeing sales plummet by 30 percent in the six weeks since the protests began. He's 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.

The incessant noise and police activity aside, Epstein said the biggest obstacle to his business has been the ubiquitous New York police barricades surrounding Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan.

"It's not only a physical impediment, it's a psychological impediment," Epstein told "You look down Wall Street now, and it looks like it's under siege. So, people who have to walk down Wall Street don't walk down Wall Street. It used to be a beautiful pedestrian mall, and now it's not -- it's ugly."

If the barricades are not removed, Epstein said he "cannot see" how his business could sustain itself. The eatery, which opened in June, is a $4 million venture and is an expansion of the Boston restaurant he and his wife opened decades earlier.

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"It's my first venture in New York and my last venture in New York," he said.

Epstein said he has pleaded with city officials, the New York police and his landlord, Donald Trump, to get the barricades removed, but he has been unable to get a return call from the city and the New York police. He was told by Trump himself, however, that the real estate mogul would try to contact city officials in hopes of removing the barricades.

Marc LaVorgna, a spokesman for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said city officials are discussing potential solutions with Milk Street Cafe and other businesses near the protests on an ongoing basis.

"We have been working with businesses and the community to address the issues caused by the protests and will continue to do so," he told's calls seeking comment from New York police officials were not returned on Tuesday.

Trump, who owns a 68-story skyscraper near the site, told that Epstein is not the only business owner taking a severe hit since the protests began.

"It's a very sad situation," Trump told by phone. "They opened up to rave reviews and now because of Occupy Wall Street, nobody's going down there. People are shunning the area; it's a very big problem."

Trump said he is "in the process" of discussing the potential removal of the barricades with city officials.

"I hope so," Trump said when asked if he thought city officials will be sympathetic to his request.

Prior to last week's terminations, Epstein told Bloomberg late last month that the police barricades surrounding Zuccotti Park have deterred shoppers and caused about a 20 percent drop in sales.

Asked 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."