QUEENS — A longtime Forest Hills deli, known for its cold cut sandwiches and fresh coffee, is closing this week after 18 years on Austin Street because its owner is no longer able to afford the rent, he said.
Ye Chen, 40, who took over Empire Deli at 71-61 Austin St., in the commercial heart of the neighborhood, about eight years ago, said that he currently pays more than $10,000 for his approximately 900-square-foot ground floor space and he is unable to stay in business.
“The rent is just ridiculous, it just keeps going up,” Chen said. “That’s what’s happening in this neighborhood."
He said that according to the lease agreement, his rent increased 5 percent annually, but when it recently reached $10,000 he asked his landlord to lower it because we wouldn't be able to pay it.
But the landlord dismissed his plea, he said.
Chen said he then terminated the lease and is now trying to sell the remaining items, many at 50 percent off standard pricing, before closing the store for good by the end of the week.
Photo: DNAinfo/Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska
The landlord, Emanuel Davidov, said that the rent at Empire Deli is pretty standard for Austin Street.
“In that area everybody pays that rent, even higher, and they are making it," he said.
Longtime customers said they were upset the store was closing.
“I will miss them,” said Damian Castaneda, 54, a hairdresser who works on Austin Street and gets his morning coffee and various groceries at Empire on a daily basis ever since it opened. “They know right away what we want and they get it for us.”
Leslie Brown, president of the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce said she was sad to see “a family-run business close.”
“It served its purpose,” she said. "We don’t have a lot of little convenience stores like that."
She also added that local landlords “have to take a strong assessment because we want to keep the neighborhood vital, we can’t just have banks.”
Several banks recently opened or are planning to open its locations along Austin Street. And while the busy commercial stretch continues to attract new boutiques and restaurants, many stores have also closed in recent years, including New York and Company, Haagen-Dazs and Benetton.