By Bill Parry
A Rego Park institution for 73 years will close its doors for good at the end of the month. Ben’s Best Delicatessen, which has been serving generations of kosher deli fans since 1945, will go out of business June 30.
The news was announced by owner Jay Parker, who purchased the restaurant from his father, Benjamin Parker, in 1984.
“There was once an approximate 1,500 kosher delis in the five boroughs in 1983, but today there’s only about 12 remaining,” Parker said.
During an average week, Ben’s Best Deli would serve nearly 900 pounds of pastrami and almost as much corned beef while enticing bold-faced names like Mayor Ed Koch, comedian Jerry Lewis, Israeli President Shimon Peres and Gov. Nelson Rockefeller into its 65-seat, wood-paneled dining room at 96-40 Queens Blvd. It was once used as a production set for “The Comedian,” a Sony Pictures Classics film starring Robert De Niro.
Kosher delis have struggled in recent years as dining habits have changed. So did the geography last year when the city Department of Transportation extended the Queens Boulevard bike lanes into Rego Park at a cost of 200 parking spaces.
“You can’t park here and if you can’t park here, you can’t eat here,” Parker told NY1. “I might as well have a restaurant on the shoulder of the Long Island Expressway. You can’t stop, you can’t even stop to let passengers off.”
Parker claims he has lost 20 percent of profits while spending more on marketing and offering curb-side pickup.
“I am dismayed and saddened about the closing of Ben’s Best, a business that has earned the right to be called a neighborhood institution,” City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) said. “Undoubtedly, the installation of bike lanes and the resulting loss of parking on Queens Boulevard has had a demonstrable negative impact on the economic viability of the businesses along the boulevard.”
She went on to say she is not opposed to the concept of bike lanes but is against introducing bike lanes without weighing the impact on the neighborhood, which in this case in Queens Boulevard.
“I will be holding a rally in the near future to demonstrate the depth of the community opposition to these bike lanes and their negative impact,” Koslowitz said.
The DOT said since the implementation of the Queens Boulevard safety redesign in 2015, there have been no pedestrian or cyclist fatalities on what was known as the “Boulevard of Death.” Pedestrian injuries decreased by 55 percent and total crashes by 19 percent in the 2015 and 2016 project limits, the area where safety improvements were made, following implementation.
“On the block where Ben’s Best is located, prior to implementation of this section of the redesign in 2017, there were approximately 10 spaces against the median and approximately 22 spaces against the curb,” a DOT spokesman said. “The block is well served by transit: There is an entrance to the 63rd Drive M/R subway and a bus stop serving the Q60, QM11 and QM18 buses. Following implementation of the pedestrian patch and the protected bike lanes in summer 2017, parking against the median was removed, some 10 spaces on this block.”
In addition, DOT installed a truck loading zone for the block’s 14 businesses to use and DOT officials met with Parker in the winter to discuss his concerns.
“Based on this meeting, we adjusted the loading zone hours, adding free parking in the evenings and on Saturdays,” the DOT spokesman said. “Additionally, we conducted a shopper’s survey for the 2018 phase of the project in nearby Forest Hills and found that 89 percent of 617 shoppers surveyed on Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills arrive by foot or transit.”
Meanwhile, author Michael Perlman, the chairman of Rego-Forest Preservation Council, submitted a preservation proposal to Parker.
“Time is of the essence to find an individual who will take over this historic business, which is known citywide and even nationally,” Perlman said. “Ben’s Best offers soulful kosher deli food in a classic ambiance, and has attracted celebrities and landed spots in movies and on TV. This is one of the last mom-and-pop style delis citywide. An unofficial landmark can be yours.”
Perlman, who has also brokered Manhattan diner deals, helped spare Forest Hills Stadium and Cinemart Cinemas and can be reached via e-mail at unloc
Parker was receptive to Perlman’s offer to help put together a deal for a new owner,
“I had every desire to continue the business through other hands,” Parker said. “If you find an interested party, we can reconstitute the business. My staff would love to continue working here.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr