By Connor Adams Sheets
The fate of a storied Jackson Heights commercial building emptied in recent months by rising rents is still in question nearly a month after the final hold-out, the beloved Cavalier Restaurant, closed its doors.
A strip of five storefronts beginning at the corner of 86th Street and 37th Avenue, the brick building was divided into five units, which have housed businesses including a beauty parlor, an accountant’s office, a meat market and a shoe store. But its future is far from certain.
The building is in the process of being sold to new owners, whose identity Perry Berger, the managing agent representing its current owner, did not disclose because it is still under contract.
Once the sale is finalized, the new owners plan to raise the rents to market rate. The trust that owned it for decades held rents artificially low in order to ensure continuity of occupancy rather than emphasizing high yields in hopes of reaping consistent dividends, Berger said.
“Many of those tenants had been there for a very long period of time. They enjoyed a rent that was well below market for a very long period of time,” he explained. “They weren’t being pushed out. I think the new landlord would’ve like to extend the leases.”
The former tenants moved out, he said, because market rate is significantly higher than what tenants were paying and may not have been sustainable for those particular businesses.
“We are obligated to close the doors. We are the victims of the economy and high rent,” said Alfonso Londoño, who bought the Cavalier Restaurant in the 1970s and had run it since then with his family.
Several sources close to the Cavalier have said the restaurant’s rent would have doubled under the new owners and that it was asked to pay six months’ security. That combination led Londoño to close the eatery Feb. 7 in a tearful farewell to the neighborhood that had called it a second home since 1950.
“The people who are taking over as landlords were asking a lot of money, I guess, considering that the Cavalier Restaurant — I guess they were probably close to 6,000 square feet of space with a basement — they were a double store,” Berger said. “Whatever they were asking for rent was probably close to double what they were paying before.”
Rumors have swirled in recent months that the building will be turned into a big-box store or razed and turned into an eight- or a nine-story building, but Berger said he sees little chance of such a change.
“It’s in a historic district, and the zoning for that area would, I think, make it almost impossible to get an eight-story building over there,” he said. “Anybody would be hard-pressed to go above three stories.”
Berger also said that as a managing agent for the current owners, he would be consulted about any construction applications for the property, on which he has not been.
Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4538.