Did Bike Lanes Kill My Favorite Kosher Delicatessen?
After 73 years of serving such favorites as overstuffed pastrami sandwiches, sour pickles, matzo ball soup, potato salad, knishes, rugelach and latkes, the doors of Ben’s Best Kosher Delicatessen were permanently closed as of Saturday, June 30, 2018 — and all purportedly because of bike lanes.
Did Bike Lanes Kill My Favorite Kosher Delicatessen?
The seemingly venerable establishment on 96-40 Queens Boulevard in Rego Park in New York was owned and run by Jay Parker, who has been in the business for 40 years and whose father Benjamin first opened the vaunted institution at its first location in the Bronx back in 1945 — and it is the latest casualty in a string of Kosher and Kosher-style delicatessens to close in recent years.
Parker blamed the implementation of bicycle lanes on both the eastbound and westbound service roads of Queens Boulevard between Eliot Avenue in Rego Park and Yellowstone Boulevard in Forest Hills by the Department of Transportation of the City of New York — which resulted in the removal of 198 parking spaces while simultaneously adding curbside delivery-only zones along the 1.3-mile stretch of service road…
…and also supposedly resulted in a decrease in business at the iconic delicatessen by as much as 25 percent since August of 2017 — primarily because customers have reportedly been scared away by both the lack of parking and the $95.00 tickets they get when they unknowingly parked in a loading zone.
“We tried marketing, we tried promotions, we cut back on additional expenses,” Parker said, according to this article written by . “Every month, it got worse and worse … we couldn’t move the needle. We’re in hospice mode.”
A search for an interested party to take over the business ultimately failed.
No, Bike Lakes Were Not The Reason
“The deli sits right on top of a subway station served by three lines, near a confluence of local bus routes”, according to this article written by Ben Fried of Streetsblog NYC. “Crammed within a few blocks are a dozen parking structures containing giga-feet of car storage, including garages at the Rego Center Mall where you can buy three hours of parking for a measly $3 (cheaper than a side of health salad at Ben’s Best).”
Fried goes on to say that “the parking spaces that the bike lane replaced only date back to 2001, when DOT added a parking lane to slow down drivers who were killing people by the dozen on Queens Boulevard. Street changes don’t explain its declining business — the challenging economics of running a kosher deli in 2018 do.”
According to that article, “The Queens Boulevard redesign has cut the number of pedestrian injuries in half, while cycling has more than doubled.”
Bill de Blasio — who is the current mayor of New York and has been in office since 2014 — “ordered the speed limit on Queens Boulevard to be lowered from 30 miles per hour to 25 miles per hour — the city’s new default speed limit — overriding city traffic engineers who had wanted to keep higher speed limits on some major arteries”, according to this article written by Winnie Hu of The New York Times. “Not a single pedestrian or cyclist has been killed on the seven-mile long thoroughfare that slices through Queens since 2014.”
The lease was not the issue which led to the demise of Ben’s Best Kosher Delicatessen, as Parker thought his landlord was great.
The article written by Ben Fried — and some of the comments in response to it — seem to suggest that reasons for the demise of Ben’s Best Kosher Delicatessen include:
- The inability of Parker to change with the times
- The fact that the delicatessen was Kosher, but not up to the standards of Orthodox Jewish people as a Glatt Kosher eatery
- A decrease of its aging traditional target demographic
- A labor dispute between management and employees
- Violations cited by the Department of Health of the City of New York
- That it is more of a destination of customers from out of town and not from the local neighborhood
- Is simply another casualty in the decline of independent “mom-and-pop” establishments in the borough of Queens — and this includes diners
- At 66 years of age, Parker was probably thinking about retirement anyway
- The increased costs and decreased margins of operating a Kosher delicatessen
I have mourned the closing of what was my favorite Kosher delicatessen; and I am wondering which one will be my new preferred choice.
The last time I visited Ben’s Best Kosher Delicatessen was one morning in December of 2017; and despite arriving in the morning just after the delicatessen opened for business, I remember how difficult was parking the rental car which I drove. While I was waiting for my large order to bring back with me to Atlanta, I kept feeding quarters into the meter at which I was parked east of the delicatessen on Queens Boulevard to keep from getting a ticket myself — and the employee behind the counter warned me more than once that law enforcement was very strict on writing up tickets.
“With this large of an order, you shoulda called it in the night before,” he advised me. “You woulda saved time. I woulda had it ready for you when you arrived.”
“I will remember that for next time,” I replied prior to departing with my food from what was my favorite Kosher delicatessen — not knowing that there would be no next time…
All photographs ©2015 by Brian Cohen.