Times story about closing

NEIGHBORHOOD REPORT: UPPER WEST SIDE; For a Warm, Unvarnished Place, High Rent and Dark Times

By JOHN FREEMAN GILL
Published: April 30, 2006

La Rosita, a rice-and-beans joint on Broadway near 108th Street, is the sort of place where the owners cluck and fuss over everyone who comes in the door, and the waitress will hold your baby while you eat. On a typical morning, scruffy Columbia professors sit at the Formica counter beside weary cleaning women coming off the night shift.

”It’s sort of what we used to be, and what some of us still are,” said Della Clason Sperling, an art historian who has lived in the neighborhood for 25 years. ”You know, some of us like to have a little bit of grit.”

But as the neighborhood has increasingly buffed away its rough edges, rising rents have forced out many family-owned businesses, and La Rosita seems poised to become the next to go. After 24 years of dishing out carne guisada and camaraderie, Enrique Fernandez and his two sons, Eduardo and Fernando, have all but made up their minds to close up shop when their lease runs out in December. They may leave sooner.

”I’m not making enough now to pay the rent, employees, water and gas,” said Enrique Fernandez, a 75-year-old Spaniard with swept-back white hair and expressive hands who came to New York by way of Cuba. ”I’m working, working, working for nothing.”

The restaurant’s regulars have taken the news hard, and a few weeks ago, five of them, including Ms. Sperling, met with the Fernandezes to strategize about how to save La Rosita. Among other suggestions, the group offered to petition the restaurant’s landlord; two years ago, a similar petition drew nearly 4,000 signatures and helped preserve Suba Pharmacy, which has served the neighborhood since 1982.

Eduardo Fernandez, the owner’s 42-year-old son, explained to the group that the landlord was open to letting La Rosita renew its lease. The problem, he said, was that the family was already struggling to pay the $18,000-a-month rent for its 1,000-square-foot space, and therefore did not even plan to ask the landlord for a reprieve on any increase.

Three calls over the course of a week to Heller Realty, to which the Fernandezes pay rent for the restaurant, were not returned.

”Also, my dad is getting older,” Eduardo Fernandez added in an interview. ”If he stays, he’ll never retire, and I think this might be a good thing for him.”

But what’s good for Enrique Fernandez may not be good for the neighborhood.

”Most of the family-owned businesses in the neighborhood are gone,” Ms. Sperling said. ”It’s this feeling, like ‘Oh, no, another one? What will be left that we’ll want to call our own?’ ”

by JOHN FREEMAN GILL

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: