By Leslie Albrecht
UPPER WEST SIDE — H&H Bagels is fighting to keep its West 80th Street and Broadway store, but if the iconic bagel seller is forced out, its owners want to open a new location on the Upper West Side.
The welcome news for H&H's loyal fans came from Marc Fintz, the bagel maker's national business manager, at a Monday night meeting in Riverside Park organized by a local resident who wants to save the bagel store from going out of business.
Fintz is the first H&H official to break the silence the company has maintained since it was reported last week that H&H's beloved Upper West Side store was closing.
About 25 people — including several reporters — showed up to the meeting, which was organized by James Besser, an Upper West Sider and 30-year customer of H&H Bagels.
Fintz said H&H Bagels owner Helmer Toro was "waiting for a miracle" that would keep the West 80th store open, but noted that the chances were slim because H&H owes more than $300,000 in back rent on its 1,800 square-foot store.
"If the 80th Street store does close, hopefully the store will reopen somewhere in the vicinity," Fintz told the crowd.
H&H has been trying to hammer out a deal with landlords Friedland Properties to lower its monthly rent from $67,500 to an amount H&H can afford, which would be "somewhere in the $40,000's," Fintz said.
But Friedland Properties — which owns real estate throughout the Upper West Side — hasn't been receptive to negotiating a new lease, Fintz said.
It's now likely the famed bagel store will close on Thursday, Fintz said.
Friedland Properties granted H&H two extra days in the space in part because of the public outcry over the loss of the bagel store, which has served up piping hot bagels to Upper West Siders since 1972, Fintz said.
Fintz — who said he was sent to the meeting to speak on behalf of Toro — said H&H fell behind on rent because of "economic things" that aren't related to the tax troubles, jail time and bankruptcy the company has weathered in recent years.
Fintz said in the past H&H may have been able to work out a deal to lower its rent with a "mom and pop" landlord, but that Friedland Properties hasn't been open to that idea — in part because they're not interested in keeping H&H as a tenant.
"They've made it very clear they want a bank to come there," Fintz said. "It's who the ideal tenant is."
Fintz said he believes Friedland Properties has a specific bank lined up to take over the space, but he doesn't know which one.
Friedland Properties could not reached for comment late Monday.
Thirty years ago, H&H Bagels cost 20 cents a piece, said Besser. Today, an H&H bagel sells for $1.40. H&H would have to jack up prices to $2.40 per bagel or $26 a dozen to afford its current rent, Fintz said.
"We think people love the product, but at a certain point...," Fintz said, trailing off.
Someone in the crowd asked if there was anything locals could do to keep H&H's West 80th Street store open.
"Not unless somebody wants to lend the company $400,000," Fintz responded.
A man stepped forward and said he might know someone with those resources. He and Fintz exchanged email addresses.
Fintz, who said he's not from the Upper West Side, said he'd been touched by the outpouring of emotion from bagel lovers who don't want to see their favorite store leave.
"It was very emotional," Fintz said. "It's something you don't see in today's day and age, people being attached to a business and treating it like an institution."
At the H&H store Monday evening, workers dismantled the chandeliers that once hung over people waiting in line to order bagels and replaced them with flourescent lights.