With its back to Broadway, AutoZone still not ready to open

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For months, it was nothing more than a two-story gray wall flushed against the western sidewalk of Broadway bordered by an unsightly construction fence.

But as the snow of this last winter melted away, so did the fence, revealing the familiar red text of AutoZone greeted by its equally familiar orange line.

It looked as if the Tennessee-based retailer would finally open what would be its 6,288th location. Except spring turned to summer, and now fall is just around the corner, with no official opening in sight.

The gleaming new sidewalk on Broadway is open, but the same isn’t true for West 234th Street. The front of the 5701 Broadway store — which actually faces a Kingsbridge Avenue apartment building — seems ready to welcome customers. Except the security scanners standing guard at the front door are still wrapped in plastic, and it’s not clear if anyone is even working inside.

Yet there’s nothing to fear, according to a company spokesman — the Bronx will get its newest AutoZone location.

Eventually.

“It’s not paused,” said David McKinney, AutoZone’s vice president of government relations. “It’s still going forward, and really that’s thanks to our working with local government and getting everything squared away.”

Yet McKinney wouldn’t share much more than that, including when the location might open.

Fading signs in front of the AutoZone boast a 2017 opening, a missed target that hasn’t gone unnoticed by passersby. Complaints aren’t just limited to the closed sidewalks and the appearance of unfinished construction. There is also some head-scratching as to why this particular location is turned away from a busy street, with a storefront in a much more secluded place.

“My issue is not how long it’s taking, but that no one ever reached out to my office,” Councilman Andrew Cohen said. “I’m always happy to have another retailer on Broadway, but the design of this is something I have an issue with.”

The windowless walls are far different than the gas station that sat on the corner for many years. Yet, such a building required just minimal review from the buildings department since it was constructed as-of-right.

Even in those cases, however, Cohen says there can be tremendous benefit by a developer paying him a visit at his office just a few blocks away.

“A variety of people come into my office, and sometimes it’s just to touch base with the plans they have,” Cohen said. “And if I have the ability to give positive feedback or constructive feedback, I do. I have had some terrible developer ideas come my way, and I’ve told them that even though what they’re doing might be legal and it might be as of right, I think the community would be terribly upset about it.”

That was advice he never had a chance to deliver to AutoZone.

Yet, the back-facing store is important for what AutoZone does, McKinney said. Employees tend to visit customers in the parking lot, especially to provide vehicle computer checks. Having them less visible to traffic like that along Broadway keeps those employees safer.

“The demand we get from our customers is to have parking access, and for us to be able to go out and assist and troubleshoot,” McKinney said. “These are the things that customers like.”

That may indeed be the case, Cohen said, but it’s likely not a sentiment shared by the rest of the community.

“This was a decision made by some corporate headquarters in some other town that is not reflective of modern urban planning, or what would be compatible with this neighborhood,” Cohen said.

The AutoZone is replacing one of two gas stations that shut down in the past 18 months or so within blocks of each other along Broadway. Another gas station that was once on the corner of Broadway and West 238th Street has since been razed to make way for a Wendy’s fast food restaurant.

“You want to make sure it’s right,” McKinney said, “and you want to make sure that everything is in place to meet demand, and to have that customer focus.”

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