By Meredith Hoffman
HELL'S KITCHEN — Slumping in his seat, Sonel Ramirez pondered the closure of his family store, Sonny's Grocery, after 41 years.
"I hope they relocate me," said Ramirez, 65, whose shop has been a fixture on West 52nd Street and Tenth Avenue for decades. "I knew this could happen...But I live day by day, you know what I mean?"
Within the next year, Sonny's must leave its spot to make room for a new housing development in the city-owned property.
The Clinton Housing Development Company spent years working with the city on a plan to renovate 500 West 52nd St. to serve low-income and formerly homeless individuals. Community Board 4 renewed its support on Wednesday for the project that includes 47 units.
But Sonny's Grocery, and other tenants, will have to find new homes.
"Everybody comes here because we try to keep our prices low," said Ramirez' brother, Noe, 64. The store has been able to keep prices low, the owners claimed, because of inexpensive rent — just $1,675 per month for the sizable shop.
"I've been coming here for ages," said Andres Seda, 61, originally from Puerto Rico. "They cater to Latinos ... He's a smart business man."
For the past 20 years, Sonel Ramirez has also owned a meat shop across Tenth Avenue, but he said he doesn't want to mix all the products into the one space and wants to keep running his grocery in a new spot.
"We're getting older, maybe it's time to hang it up," Noe Ramirez said. "But my brother, Sonny — he’ll work until he croaks!"
Joe Restuccia, executive director of Clinton Housing Development, said he would ensure that Sonny's finds another affordable spot, which he said he has already done for other commercial tenants in the building. There were no residents living there.
"We’ll find them other spaces, and continue to be their landlords," Restuccia said. "The underlying issue is that people are paying low rents for a lot of space. They'll still be our tenants, somewhere else, but they understand they will pay more and be in smaller spaces."
The rents in Sonny's city-owned building have remained well under market rate, Restuccia explained. One person, for example, had been paying around $300 a month for a 2,000-square-foot art studio.
Restuccia said he could understand tenants' surprise because over the years so many projects proposed for the building went nowhere, including a plan to demolish the whole block in the 1980s.
"It's all much slower because everything has to go through the city," he said.
Another tenant of the building, Intar Theater Company, is also depending on Clinton Housing Development for help in its move — its second in seven years.
"We’d certainly like to stay in the neighborhood," said John McCormack, Intar's executive director. "Location is everything."