By Leslie Albrecht
UPPER WEST SIDE — The sudden closing of Ottomanelli Brothers butcher shop on Amsterdam Avenue and West 79th Street has Upper West Siders fearing for the future of a block where small merchants once thrived.
Ottomanelli Brothers, lauded in online reviews for its friendly service and "old-world appeal," is the latest in a string of shuttered businesses on the east side of Amsterdam between West 78th and 79th streets, where seven of 11 storefronts now stand empty.
In a neighborhood where residents see mom and pop stores as the lifeblood of their streets, the vanishing businesses have many worried.
"It's just awful," said City Councilwoman Gale Brewer, who represents the Upper West Side. She said she has been working to help small merchants, and recently hosted a roundtable discussion where mom and pop stores talked to city agencies about the challenges they faced.
"[Small businesses] make the city a safer, more humane place," Brewer said. "If you go to a local pharmacy, they know your history. The mom and pop stores are like extended family. They know the kids, they know the parents. They make the city more manageable."
It's not known what will replace the lost stores. Janoff & Olshan, the landlords for the five closed businesses on the southern end of the block, didn't return calls for comment. Neighbors said they've heard rumors that Dylan's Candy Bar would take over the space, but a company spokeswoman denied that on Tuesday.
Northbrook Partners, which manages the Ottomanelli Brothers space, couldn't be reached for comment on Tuesday. A hand-lettered sign on the front door says the store closed "due to rising costs and an inability to come to an agreement with the landlord."
"It's just heartbreaking," said Claire Gorayeb as she rounded the corner Tuesday afternoon and spotted the darkened Ottomanelli Brothers storefront. A chalkboard in the window still advertised the shop's breakfast special with a 60-cent cup of coffee.
"It's another business that's been here a long time that's now gone," said Gorayeb, a 10-year Upper West Side resident. "Big box retail stores are convenient, but local businesses are the lifeblood of the city."
Gorayeb said her family bought Thanksgiving turkeys at Ottomanelli Brothers and her older daughter, a picky eater, liked the shop's steak.
In addition to Ottomanelli Brothers, the block recently lost Gavin Printing and Stationery, A.J.A. Locksmith, Marco shoe repair, Eye Q optometrist, Granny-Made clothing, and the 24-hour Shining Star restaurant, which was like a second home to many long-time regulars.
The locksmith, optometrist and Granny-Made found new locations nearby. The shoe repair and Shining Star went out of business altogether. The fate of Gavin Printing and Stationery is unknown.
Business owners on the southern end of the block said Janoff & Olshan told them late last year to leave their spaces and refused to negotiate new leases.
"The whole thing was painful," said Michael Rosenberg, owner of Granny-Made, which moved to 467 Amsterdam Avenue. "It wasn't handled nicely. I wouldn’t say it was a model of how to treat your tenants after 20 years."
But Rosenberg said his move worked out in the end, because his new store had twice as much space, which he's hoping would bring in twice as much business.
Joel Kravet, owner of Apthorp Cleaners, one of the four businesses that remains on the block, said he missed the camaraderie he felt when other small merchants were next door.
And the lost foot traffic hadn't helped his bottom line, he said.
Kravet's cleaning and tailor shop was on Broadway for 26 years, then his landlord asked him to leave three years ago, he said. He found a new space on Amsterdam Avenue, but worries he could face the same pressure again.
"Amsterdam Avenue is becoming like Broadway, it's like a mall with national shops," Kravet said. "People need watch repair and eyeglass repair more than they need Godiva chocolates and Coach handbags every day. But the landlords don't want to rent to the small businesses."
Stephanie Goldstein, owner of handcrafted gifts boutique Stoopher & Boots next door, said she opened her store last year hoping to inject some flavor back into the Upper West Side.
But she noted that she was lucky to find a landlord willing to rent to her, because she was new to the retail world.
"It used to be all stores like this, independently-owned and artistic," said Goldstein, a 15-year Upper West Sider. "There used to be a lot more charm and not so much chain stuff. But that's the economy and that's business. I can't blame anybody for it. I don't know if the city can do anything. People have to support the small stores."
Goldstein noted it was not all doom and gloom on the block. Aside from Stoopher & Boots and Apthorp Cleaners, two other stores are still open: Emack & Bolio's ice cream and Bagels & Co.
The empty Gavin Printing and Stationery store will soon come to life again as the newest outpost of TriBeCa's Pecan Cafe. The eatery has signed a 10-year lease, according to Crain's New York.