Are Convenience Stores a Dying Breed?

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The small shops that stock everything have a tough time hanging on in the neighborhood By Sherry Kerabin It's no secret that the Upper West Side has been changing for years, with new condominiums being built and high-end businesses setting up shop along the avenues. So when a longtime convenience store on Broadway between 86th and 85th streets shut its doors in February many were not surprised. The store, which had been operating at the location since the '70s, sold items ranging from candy and other snack foods to newspapers, magazines and lottery tickets. Amour de Hair opened in the same space in the middle of May, offering a wide variety of hair and makeup services seven days a week. The owner, Pino Zekry, established the company in 1995 and has three other locations in the city, all on the East Side. Zekry did not respond to requests to be interviewed about his latest endeavor. "Frankly I would rather have seen an ethnic food store take its place," said local resident Paul. "I am glad a bank didn't go in there. Banks are replacing too many of the stores that go out of business." Michael Fox, owner of Jeffrey Stein Salon at 2345 Broadway, directly across the street from the former convenience store, said the price of rent makes it difficult for any mom-and-pop business to stay viable. "Leases generally last ten years and when they are up you have to decide if it is worth paying more to continue at the location," said Fox who has been operating out of the same space for about 13 years. "The convenience store was not only competing against the bigger chains but there is a newspaper kiosk right on the corner that was selling a lot of the same stuff." Fox said it was not located on the busiest side of Broadway either. "It is my understanding that the west side of Broadway generates the most foot traffic which is why a lot of longtime retailers like Fairway and Citarella opt to be on the west side." Although the owners of the convenience store have moved away, several sources said poor money management and high rent led to the closing. Andrew Albert, executive director of the West Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, said although many small businesses are having a hard time competing with the larger chains, convenience stores are not a dying breed yet. "There are still quite a few left in the area," said Albert. "There are two that I know of in the upper '70s, and whenever I walk by they seem to be busy." "The reason that a business closes is not always that black and white," he continued. "People always assume it is rising rents, but sometimes the owners move away or are offered money to leave." That said the owner of the 86th Street Convenience Store on Amsterdam Avenue admits he has been struggling to make ends meet for a long time. "Ever since the CVS and the Key Food opened it has been hard," said Ahamed Sajjad, who started the operation over 20 years ago. "Those stores carry everything that I have except lottery tickets.A lot of months I break even or lose money but I'm still trying." Sajjad said he has seen his business increase somewhere between 25 and 30 percent since the store on Broadway closed. "I was expecting a lot more," he said. "I thought I would see at least 50 percent more business." He said his business might not be around if he had not been able to negotiate with his landlord to obtain a "more reasonable rate" when his lease expired. "The rents in this area are just too," said Sajjad. Last fall, Tasti D-Lite owner Vernoica Zubiaga decided not to renew the lease at their 86th Street and Broadway location, instead moving to 85th and Amsterdam, where they opened on March 23rd. "We were paying $17,000 a month and the landlord wanted $20,000," said Zubiaga. "In our new location, we have more space and there is a big difference in rent. "A lot of businesses that used to be on Broadway are moving to Amsterdam for the same reasons we did," said Zubiaga.

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