It could be the end of a New York City staple. At the famed H&H Bagels on 80th Street and Broadway on Wednesday, Upper West Siders flocked to the city’s most famous bagelry to stock up on what could be their last supply of sesames and poppies as rumors spread of the store’s closing.
“I think it’s awful,” said area resident Judith Freid, who has been buying bagels at H&H since the ‘80s. She left the store with four dozen bagels for her daughter, who lives in Connecticut. “They just taste better than other bagels.”
Calls to H&H were not returned, but a store employee who asked not to be named said that while the store wouldn’t close on Wednesday, as reported by some newspapers, it probably would shut its doors by the end of the week, ending a reign as the Upper West Side bagel king for over 40 years.
The store’s brown and white awning had already been taken down.
“We’re trying to fight it,” said another store employee, Mark, who refused to give his last name. “There’s been a tremendous groundswell of support from the neighborhood.”
Near the store’s entrance, one resident left photocopies of a hand-written flyer, with the words “PRESERVE H+H” hastily scrawled on the top. “I am organizing neighbors to keep our beloved mom-and-pop store," read the flyer. "We don’t want another bank or cell-phone outlet here."
Lines formed at H&H Bagels on Wednesday as area residents purchased what could be their last bagels.
Mark pointed out that the intense emotion surrounding H&H was about more than just baked goods.
“It’s not about bagels, it’s about preserving the character of the community,” he said. “There are some things that more important than money. We should try to work out whatever issues that there are.”
Raising rents may be the culprit. Although it could not be confirmed with the company’s owners, a store employee said that H&H currently pays $65,000 a month in rent to the owners of the specialty grocery store Zabar's, their landlord, and now they are being asked to pay more. The employee said that the store on 46th St. will remain open.
Previously, there have been signs of financial troubles for H&H. Owner Helmer Toro was reportedly sentenced to 50 weekends in jail last year for tax evasion.
For long-time customers, the news was still a shock.
“I’ve lived on the corner my whole life and I’m just so sad to see it go," said Isaac Steinberg, 19. “At the end of Passover, we’d always make a run here because it’s open 24 hours and we’d pick up our leavened bagels. Whenever I smell the fresh bagels baking, it’s like the smell of childhood for me.”