By Sabina Mollot
Over the weekend, loyal fans of Ess-a-Bagel were saddened to see a sign on the shop’s door stating that March 23 would be its last day in business at First Avenue and 21st Street. In the meantime, customers were urged to visit the bagel joint’s midtown location. The sign promised that the business would remain in the neighborhood although no hints were given as to where that would be.
As Town & Village first reported in January, Ess-a-Bagel had lost its lease after 40 years, with the owner, David Wilpon, saying the family-run business would be moving close by. Other neighboring businesses located at the same building, the restaurants Grill 21, and Rose restaurant opted to close rather than move. Grill 21’s owner had said he wasn’t given the option of renewing. Grill 21, a Filipino restaurant, is still open as of this week, but Rose, a chicken restaurant, which the landlord said was seven months arrears in its rent, has closed already. Another business in the same building, a shoe repair shop, is still open, and on Monday, the owner said there were no plans to close the business. Both Ess-a-Bagel and Grill 21 had originally expected to close at the end of January but had their leases temporarily extended.
In January, Wilpon said Ess-a-Bagel’s move was due to the owner telling him, after negotiations, that he was taking too long to sign on the dotted line. Wilpon explained the delay as being due to the death of his aunt, Florence Wilpon, who’d founded the business. However, according to a rep for the landlord, Wilpon had simply refused to budge when his rent was to be upped to “market rate.” The spokesperson for the landlord, an LLC owned by L&M Development head Ron Moelis and others, said she did not have information as to what the new market rate rent was. Meanwhile, Ess-a-Bagel was to be replaced with a Bank of America and another bagel joint called Tal Bagels.
As for Ess-a-Bagel’s future home, not long after T&V’s story, which was picked up by a number of other news outlets, ran, Ess-a-Bagel tweeted that customers shouldn’t worry as it was just moving down the block.
However, last week, when Town & Village called Wilpon to ask if the new location was official yet, he answered that there were a couple of possibilities, but declined to elaborate, citing confidentiality agreements. This Monday, an employee at the shop said even he didn’t know where the business was moving or when it would reopen.
Previously, after hearing a rumor that the bagel shop was headed for a vacant space on First Avenue last inhabited by The Frenchmen, we asked that building’s owner if this was the case. However, Glenn Koniuk, the son of The Frenchmen’s owner Bill Koniuk who owns the First Avenue building, denied this. He said his place was too small for a bagel restaurant and also said he didn’t want a tenant who had a food operation. The younger Koniuk now runs The Frenchmen, an air conditioner and electronics business, out of a warehouse in Brooklyn.
The next door over, another vacant space, formerly occupied by the French Cleaner dry cleaning shop, also apparently isn’t a future bagel restaurant.
The owner of the building, whose attempting to sell the place, said on Monday that no one from Ess-a-Bagel had contacted him, and the ground floor is still very much available.
T&V also called the owner of another nearby First Avenue building with a vacant storefront, last occupied by the Beehives & Buzzcuts kiddie salon. The owner, Rafael Sassouni, wasn’t around, but an employee said that space had not yet been rented. While there are a number of construction related permits tacked onto the storefront, which is covered by a wooden barrier, the employee guessed any work being done inside was just for the owner’s benefit.
UPDATE: Cooper Laundromat, at 363 First Avenue, between 21st and 22nd Streets, is another space that could potentially become a bagel shop. The laundromat is closing and its last day of business will be Friday, March 20, one of the owners said. He also said Ess-a-Bagel has expressed interest in moving in. Over the phone on Thursday, the part-owner said the laundromat was not being forced out by the landlord, who he called “a decent guy,” but there were other issues, and the decision to close is “a done thing.”
Word began to spread about the closure on Wednesday on the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association Facebook page.
Meanwhile, a local real estate broker commented that he thought a move might be a blessing in disguise for Ess-a-Bagel. Despite being a loyal fan, he explained that on weekend mornings, lines out of the corner shop snake out the door with customers sometimes waiting 20-25 minutes to get inside. “They need a new space — they’ve outgrown it,” he said.