''You never ask, 'You have sewers here?' In America, right here, in the heart of New York City? No! It never occurred to me to ask. It would be silly to ask.''

blight-me-t.gifSo said Gordhandas Soni when asked about his surprise to see lack of basic infrastructure in the neighborhood he planned to relocate his business.

The Times profiled Soni in last Friday’s edition. Soni owns House of Spices, an Indian food company, in Willets Point, Queens. His is one of the many businesses that have thrived in spite of the city’s neglect of the area’s infrastructure and one of the many that are threatened by the city’s plan to demolish and start over. Excerpt:

By the time Mr. Soni figured out that there was no modern-day sewage system in place, he said, he was too far along in the deal to back out. But he couldn’t have missed some other glaring problems that plague the area, just east of Shea Stadium. It is not unusual for visitors to his factory to get about halfway down his street, Willets Point Boulevard, and then turn around, convinced that no thriving business could possibly have its home there. The streets in the area, bounded by Willets Point Boulevard, 126th Street and Northern Boulevard, lined bumper-to-bumper with auto-body shops and junkyards, are famously puddled, potholed and barely paved. The ride is so uneven, so hard on a vehicle (to say nothing of the passengers), it’s as if the road is conspiring with the repair shops to deliver them even more business.

Mr. Soni was willing to put up with primitive plumbing and the developing-nation aesthetic of the area, known as the Iron Triangle, for a great deal and a chance to expand. At the time, the city, eager for his business in the area, offered perks like low-interest loans and a freeze on real estate taxes for 20 years. Now, 18 years later, the same city that lured him to the area is trying to coax him away, as it paves the way for a huge, green redevelopment of the area that would include restaurants, housing, a convention center, parks and shops to go hand-in-hand with the Mets new baseball stadium across the street.

That such a place could exist in the United States in 2008 is pretty amazing, but what is more amazing, is that regular people have established thriving businesses in spite of the government’s failure to provide basic services.