Small businesses in Village cannot withstand rent increases

Maddie Freeman for WSN


101 University Pl., once occupied by University Restaurant diner, has been replaced by Austrian candy and snack shop chain Gunz Fine European Food. Gunz has been operating a New York-based food importing company, Gunz America Corporation, for three years, but the Greenwich Village location, which opened last week, is Gunz’s first store in the New York market.

“The high foot traffic and the proximity to Union Square make it a great location,” said Gunz America spokesperson Nicole Hummer. “Currently, this is our only store planned. However, a few more stores in the city area would not be unrealistic.”

University Restaurant was located on University Place for nearly 60 years, but was forced to close after a rent increase. CAS junior Ayden Rosenberg said she associated the restaurant with her freshman year, when she lived in nearby Weinstein residence hall.

“I was there all the time,” Rosenberg said. “Their breakfast deals were unbeatable. I was pretty bummed when it closed because it represented a lot of good times.”

University Restaurant is not the only business to deal with high rent prices, and its replacement might signal a larger pattern of local business turnover in the Village. Ron D’Allegro, a co-owner of Knickerbocker Bar & Grill at 33 University Pl., said rent increases have made it difficult for local businesses to compete against large businesses, which can afford to pay higher rent.

“I think the rent issue in the area is what has led to the breakdown of the Village,” D’Allegro said. “This breaks down the flavor of the neighborhood and it cycles down. Though many people try to open restaurants, very few survive. We are hanging in there, but I don’t know [for] how much longer.”

In an April 2013 interview with WSN, Mandy Calara, CEO of Chicago-based Forever Yogurt, said he was against the loss of culturally significant businesses, but that the economics of the city can make that loss unavoidable. Forever Yogurt opened a store in the Village, replacing the independently owned record store Bleecker Bob’s.

“I appreciate the efforts of neighborhoods to preserve landmarks,” Calara said. “But sometimes landlords want to maximize rents.”

D’Allegro said up-and-coming neighborhoods are also a challenge to restaurants in the Village.

“With areas in Brooklyn, Queens and Harlem now elevating their restaurants, people are staying in their own neighborhoods,” D’Allegro said.

Rosenberg said she is careful not to become too attached to any particular restaurant.

“It’s hard to watch the places that characterize your college experience just up and leave, but it’s part of the deal of going to school in New York,” Rosenberg said.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Sept. 16 print edition. Ilana Ladis is a contributing writer. Email her at [email protected]