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Century-Old Coffee Dealer M. Rohrs' to Close

By Amy Zimmer | March 17, 2011 7:54pm | Updated on March 18, 2011 7:26am

By Amy Zimmer

DNAinfo News Editor

UPPER EAST SIDE — M. Rohrs' House of Fine Teas and Coffee, which has been selling exotic loose teas and coffee beans on the Upper East Side since 1896, is closing on Friday.

Owner Donald Wright said he's shuttering the shop at 310 East 86th St., sandwiched between several restaurants just off of Second Avenue, because of a combination of factors — increasing rent and regulations, a tough economy and the negative impact of the Second Avenue subway construction.

It also hasn't helped that New Yorkers can now buy coffee at "700 million places" even though people "swear by" M. Rohrs' 90 types of coffee and teas, he said.

"Every little thing chips away. There's not enough coming in to pay for everything going out," Wright said. "In order to survive in the city, you've got to be a chain or a big restaurant. We tried to do middle of the road and it didn't work."

Before Wright took over the flailing business 15 years ago, the self-described history buff — who takes pride in the shop's century old coffee tins and grinders— said the M. Rohrs' had never sold a cup of coffee. Little by little, he turned into more of a café.

He wasn't thrilled that writers, consultants and others would spend so much time typing away on their laptops at the café so, several years back, he began charging for people to plug their computers into outlets.

"It's hard to be a public library when you have to pay all the bills," Wright said.

Ten months ago he packed up the shop's café tables and chairs as he unsuccessfully scoured the city for a new retail location that would not include a café component. He decided selling food, beer and wine in addition to the coffee and tea didn't make sense since it required more staff and overhead.

"The reality is there's a lot of regulation to become a restaurant or small café. Unless you do it big time, you can't do it," Wright said.

The shop had moved several times within the Upper East Side during its more than 100 years in business, and Wright hasn't ruled out reopening at some point in the future.

They'll still be making deliveries to their long-time local customers from their wholesale distribution center in New Jersey, and will still be shipping nationwide.

"Now you've got to buy your coffee through the Internet," Wright said. "We grind it that day and then ship it right to you."