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Upper West Side Mourns Loss of H&H Bagels

By Leslie Albrecht | June 21, 2011 8:34pm | Updated on June 22, 2011 8:46am

By Leslie Albrecht

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

UPPER WEST SIDE — Devastated Upper West Siders rushed to H&H Bagels to stock up on plain, sesame and poppy seed baked treats Tuesday as news of the legendary store's impending closure spread like a bitter-tasting schmear.

An employee at the store told DNAinfo that H&H's store on West 80th Street and Broadway will close Sunday, though some news outlets reported that Tuesday or Wednesday would be the last day.

The employee said the store, which has been an Upper West Side fixture since 1972, was closing "because of rent."

H&H officials could not be reached for comment. H&H's West 46th Street and 12th Avenue location will remain in business, the employee said, adding that her job will move there.

The company has had a rocky couple of years. H&H owner Helman Toro was sentenced last year to 50 weekends in jail after pleading guilty to tax evasion. Toro had to temporarily close H&H's W. 80th St. and Broadway and W. 46th St. and West Side Highway shops in 2009 as part of the tax fight.

Earlier this year, one of the company's backers declared bankruptcy, saying they owed $5.1 million to debtors, including a $3.4 million IRS debt and back taxes owed to New York and New Jersey.

On Tuesday, the store's awning, which once boasted "Like no other bagel in the world" had already disappeared from the corner facing Zabar's, another Upper West Side icon, where many bought lox to go with H&H's bagels.

As TV reporters stationed themselves on the sidewalk outside, a steady stream of shocked Upper West Siders made their way to the neighborhood institution Tuesday afternoon.

They lined up to order bagels, ask questions of the employees, and commiserate.

Norah Shaykin, of West 70th Street and Central Park West, said the loss of H&H will take a bite out of the Upper West Side's character.

Shaykin — who prefers plain or sesame, but orders everything-flavored bagels for her children — said she's been an H&H regular for 25 years.

Shaykin drew a parallel between H&H's closing and the loss of Shakespeare & Co. bookstore, which shuttered in 1996, after Barnes & Noble opened a few blocks away. The Barnes & Noble went out of business earlier this year and will be replaced by a Century 21 discount fashion store this fall.

"We're losing everything that's interesting about the neighborhood," Shaykin said. "Everything is a chain now. It used to be a quirky place to live, but it's like being in a mall now. I guess we still have the park."

Stevie and Chris Porterfield said they weren't aware of the business' troubles. They stopped by Tuesday to grab a dozen sourdough bagels, and said they would buy another batch before the store closed for good.

The Porterfields, who've lived on the West 91st and Central Park West since 1972, said H&H was the first stop on a neighborhood jaunt they made every Sunday morning. After buying bagels at H&H about 7:30 or 8 a.m., the couple said they went to Starbucks to drink coffee, eat the bagels, and read the New York Times.

"It's part of the fabric of our daily life," said Chris Porterfield, 74. "If there are no H&H bagels, it leaves so many holes. I don't know what we're going to do. These are the anchors of the Upper West Side."

Jeremy Burton, 42, who was born and raised on the Upper West Side, said he never imagined that H&H Bagels would close, even though he'd seen several other neighorhood staples disappear over the years.

Burton, who said he remembered sitting in his stroller and teething on H&H bagels as a toddler, called H&H's closing "the end of an era."

"If H&H goes, then nothing is permanent on the West Side," Burton said.