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.

Bike lanes?!?

Did Bike Lanes Kill My Favorite Kosher Delicatessen?

Ben’s Best Kosher Delicatessen

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

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.

All that is left of the delicatessen is its official Internet web site — with messages such as “We had a blast” and “The years flew by!” — and its menu.

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 Christopher Barca, who is the editor of the Queens Chronicle. “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:


Pastrami Ben’s Best Kosher Delicatessen

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

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.

6 thoughts on “Did Bike Lanes Kill My Favorite Kosher Delicatessen?”

  1. AvGeekAgent says:

    Sad to hear about this one. I’m in LA, and we’ve seen our share of closings, but, encouragingly, as of late, there seems to be more openings than closings, with Daughter’s (Langer’s daughter), Wexler’s (two locations) and Freedmans in Silverlake. Original Langer’s (and it’s incomparable pastrami) is still thriving as well. For a replacement in NYC, though, my vote is for Pastrami Queen.

  2. Charlie says:

    Interesting timing of your post, considering that I just had breakfast with Jay yesterday (i’m a long-time friend and customer, and in fact worked there briefly after graduating high school). Rather than getting into any of the details of the closing and confirming/denying any of the reasons listed in the article, i’ll just say that I mourn along with you for their closing. I was there on the final day in business and it was quite a scene to see hundreds of customers coming back to share their decades worth of memories and to savor one last meal. It was a Queens institution and is sorely missed!


  3. Donato says:

    I live in NYC currently, under the draconian traffic and parking schemes put in place by DiBlasio and former Mayor Bloomberg.
    While safety is a laudatory goal and nobody will argue otherwise, the implementation is absurdly nonsensical.
    In the interest of safety, lanes are reduced to create bike lanes. There is however, no law nor any enforcement of any kind to curtail bikes on sidewalks, bikes using traffic lanes, bikes without the mandatory driver safety vest with employer ID visible and even bikes going through red lights, school bus flashing lights and stopping after hitting pedestrians.
    All the above happen with MOTORIZED BIKES going in excess of the 20 MPH speed permitted.

    YES, many restaurants and other businesses have suffered as parking spaces have been cut citywide to create bike lanes. Stating, as above, that the parking has only been there since 2001 is meaningless, 17 years is a lifetime in this instance. Noting that a mall 3 blocks away has parking is meaningless as well.

  4. Joey says:

    Do you think they would reopen at a different location?

  5. Dom says:

    Also note that the referenced site streetsblog is a pro-cycling and generally anti-automobile site. So I wouldn’t expect them to have fair and impartial analysis as to bike lane impact.

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