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July 3, 2014- Danny Mayer addresses the controversy over the closure of Union Square Cafe due to high rents in a NYT Op-Ed. He writes, “Because the market suggests they can, landlords are using this moment to demand the significantly higher rents they’ve been waiting for since first betting on their neighborhoods. In our case, the advertised rent is triple what we are now paying.
We aren’t alone. In the past year, all kinds of pioneering restaurants that helped set the table for their respective neighborhoods — including Mesa Grill, in the Flatiron district, and WD-50 on the Lower East Side — have each lost out to untenable rent escalations. My hunch is that they won’t be replaced by restaurants that will become similar pillars of their neighborhood.
For the condos and chain stores that may replace us, such costs can be absorbed or passed on to consumers. But that sort of economics doesn’t work for neighborhood restaurants. Our food and wine isn’t inexpensive, but it’s not unreasonably priced. To change that value equation would be inhospitable to our guests and go against our reason for existing. Nor would it allow us to continue to provide an upward career path for our dedicated employees.
It is sad that the more “successful” a neighborhood becomes, the more it gradually takes on a recognizable, common look, as the same banks, drugstore chains and national brands move in. Be honest: Would you rather have one more bank branch in your neighborhood, or another independent restaurant?
Compare this with a place like London, where neighborhoods have, for generations, succeeded in retaining their distinctive identities and institutions. There are scores of restaurants and pubs that are far, far older than Union Square Cafe. Landlords permit classic establishments to endure even when their original operators sell them, for there is something in that culture that prizes continuity, even over maximized profit.
We may never be like London, but I wonder if we would find ourselves in this situation if New York had something like London’s Rent Assessment Panel, a government committee that resolves rent disputes and is credited with helping prevent rapid erosion of the city’s neighborhood fabric.”