Goodbyes can be difficult, including saying them to places intertwined with our memories. Lately, it seems, Long Islanders have been gathering to bid farewell to businesses long a part of their life and the region’s landscape, such as the Plainview Diner.
“When I was a kid, we came here on very special occasions,” Jane Goldberg, a former Plainview resident who now lives in Melville, said on Sept. 20 at the Plainview Diner. “And I would get the chocolate pudding with whipped cream, which was so good.”
She said the diner had served generations of her family and she sees its closing as a personal and local loss.
“My parents were here every single Sunday probably for 30 years,” Goldberg said. “I always knew where to find them. We’ll miss this place.”
Audrey Cohen, who also joined in that final farewell, looked back on a place that, more than just a business, was a part of her life.
“I feel like I grew up going to the Plainview Diner,” she said after the reunion. “Plainview has no main street or center of town. When you went to the Plainview Diner, you saw familiar faces.”
Final fond farewells have become common, not simply when people die, but as businesses shut down after many decades.
“There’s been a lot of diner closings. Residents in each of those towns mourn the closings of these town institutions,” Cohen said, noting that new owners sometimes save the day. “Everyone in Plainview was hoping that would be the case here, but that didn’t happen.”
A pandemic, shifts to the internet and delivery, inflation, and rising rent are leading to closings of sometimes-celebrated businesses. Still, at least when it comes to jobs, it’s a mixed bag. Long Island’s not-seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate was 3.4 % in August, down 1 percentage point from a year ago, while New York State’s rate was 4.9% and the national rate was 3.8%. Four percent is considered full employment.
The August Job Openings and Labor Turnover (JOLTS) survey showed “layoffs nationwide were little changed,” according to Shital Patel, principal economist and labor market analyst for the New York State Department of Labor Long Island region. About 4.2 million people quit and 1.5 million were let go, roughly flat with a year ago. But permanent businesses closing or establishment deaths in New York are up, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. About 75,000 closed in 2020, up from 60,000 in 2019 and about 51,000 in 2012.
Losing local legends
Restaurants and caterers have been hit hard, leading to closings after many generations. Chateau Briand Caterers in Carle Place, where so many memories were made, will soon be a memory itself. Described on its website as “featuring newly redecorated ballrooms, a sprawling garden oasis and Scotto Brothers award-winning cuisine,” it’s reaching the end of its road.
After more than 50 years, thousands of events, and $1.8 million in Paycheck Protection Program funds, according to Newsday, the 16,000-square-foot venue is closing. Large facilities often feel the brunt of slower business. Corporate events dwindled and many other events downsized. On Sept. 30, the company filed documents with the NYSDOL, indicating a plan to close by year’s end. The documents said its 112 employees will be laid off by the end of the year “and the restaurant will permanently close thereafter.”
Nicky’s on the Bay in Bay Shore closed in October after 18 years, but wasn’t simply a victim of economic dislocation. The company wasn’t able to renew its lease. Owners Nick and Rachel Parini held a farewell party and fundraiser for staff on Oct. 10. Nick Parini told GreaterBayshore.com he felt “blessed” to have a beautiful last day as crowds flocked to dine beneath the sun. Vitrano and his partners reportedly are set to open a new restaurant at the waterfront location in November.
Morrison’s in Planview also shut down amid emotional goodbyes. “We are absolutely heartbroken to share that Morrison’s has served its final meal,” the Poole and Bloom families wrote online. “Three generations of our family have called Morry’s home and we send our love to the other families who have celebrated milestones within our walls.”
They said they will honor Morrison’s gift cards at Jackson’s in Commack, which they also own, and made a plea for diners to remain loyal to restaurants they love. “Please support your local restaurants by dining in and ordering takeout directly,” the families wrote.
Some eateries were rescued. Hildebrandt’s in Williston Park was getting ready to close when Randy Sarf and Spencer Singer scooped up the ice cream parlor, in business for nearly a century. The new owners said they plan to leave the neon sign in place, according to News12 Long Island.
Retail’s rough road
While many restaurants closed, retail faces challenges too, especially for traditional stores. Giants like Sears closed its New York stores. Sunrise Mall is closing in Massapequa after about 50 years. Urban Edge Properties and its partners acquired the property on Jan. 4, 2021. In Holbrook, the Blumenfeld Development Group signed a 99-year lease for 270,000-square-foot Sun Vet Mall. Meanwhile, some small retailers are closing after long runs.
Ben Elias Industries Corp. and Kenco Retail Inc., sellers of ladies’, men’s and children’s sportswear, closed this summer after 77 years, leading to 79 layoffs in Valley Stream and Inwood. “Four generations of family members have been privileged to be part of the legacy our business leaves behind,” the company wrote on its website. “We would like to thank our valued employees, customers and vendors for decades of commitment, dedication and loyalty.”
Reading, Writing and Reincarnation
Bookstores, of course, have been in the eye of their own economic storm. Newsday trumpeted “Beloved Port Washington staple the Dolphin Bookshop closing its doors” when after 76 years the Dolphin announced it would shut in late October.
Owner Judith Mitzner stood in the store entrance near a sign saying “Big Blowout Sale” after lower sales, higher rent, a pandemic, and changing habits caused the closure. “…We haven’t seen the kind of traffic that we need in order to make it work,” Mitzner told Newsday. “This was a love project … but it’s asking for too much.”
The Book Revue in Huntington closed in September 2021, although Mallory Braun, a former Book Revue manager, is working to open The Next Chapter. And former Congressman Steve Israel recently opened Theodore’s Books (named for Teddy Roosevelt) in Oyster Bay. People are starting businesses, beginning new chapters even as the book closes for others. On Theodore’s Books’ website, Israel says he decided to “turn the page” from a career in politics and “find a place where there’s no screaming, lobbying, or finger-pointing (unless it’s the tip of your finger against a line in a book you love).”