‘From a funeral to a miracle’: Beloved Woodhaven tavern saved, but small biz still struggles across city

Photo by Dean Moses

Business was booming at the historic Neir’s Tavern in Woodhaven the day after Mayor de Blasio personally showed up to announce that it would not be closing on Jan. 10.

De Blasio’s office helped get the bar’s landlord to the table to negotiate a lease with owner Loycent Gordon that would ensure it will stay open for another five years, with the option to renew for five more.

But for small business advocates, the saga raised systemic concerns.

The news of the tavern’s salvation came a day after owner Loycent Gordon had sent out an email to his customers, telling them that he would have to hastily close as a result of a $3,400 rent hike.

But over the course of Jan. 10, the Queens Chamber of Commerce and local lawmakers intervened on behalf of the 190-year bar, which is said to be the oldest continuously running bar in the city, to work out a lease that would last until it’s 200th anniversary, along with some grants to cover repairs to the building.

“It was a madhouse, everyone was crying — [we’re] just overjoyed. It went from a funeral to a miracle,” Gordon said, describing the packed celebration on Friday night.

Among the throng of Neir’s guests on Saturday — which included neighbors who came to celebrate their local pub and first-timers who arrived because of the media coverage — were a group of advocates who showed up to spread awareness about two bills that are aimed at protecting businesses from ballooning rent.

“It’s great that the mayor saved this place, but you can bet that he’s not going to be able to save each and every space in the city,” said Olympia Kazi, a member of the NYC Artist Coalition, a group dedicated lowering rents for small businesses as a way to keep grassroots cultural institutions alive.

The members of the groups explained that they are in favor of two bills that propose to lower commercial rents.

One of them named the commercial rent stabilization bill, introduced by Councilman Stephen Levin, would function much like the recent residential rent stabilization. It would set up a rent guideline board under mayoral control that would set a percentage increase cap for all commercial leases under 10,000 feet.

The other bill floating around the council is the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, which would entitle each commercial lease holder go to mediation and binding arbitration if they thought that a new lease was proposing a rent hike that was too steep.

“You cannot have a place that has invested in a community — it’s been there for decades — and out of the blue, without any reason, the rent is doubled or tripled,” said Kazi.

The group came to advocate for affordable community spaces, like Neir’s, which they see as vital to culture, but not hugely profitable.

In fact, even the devoted neighbors of Neir’s said that they could see why it was struggling.

“It’s an awkward spot for a bar because it’s so old. Parking here is a nightmare because it’s all residential. Unless you grew up around here, or live around here you don’t really know about this place, unless it’s because of the history,” said Chris Kirwan, a regular at the bar’s trivia night.

But for people like Bobby Flash — a neighbor who still holds on to a snow packet he picked up while watching Martin Scorsese film a scene from “Goodfellas” at the bar in 1989 — it contains an ineffable piece of the city’s history.

“To me, it’s not just another bar; it’s a community place. For the mayor to come down here, you know this place has great significance,” Flash said.

Editor’s Note: A former version of this article mistakenly said that Councilman Mark Levine introduced the commercial rent stabilization bill, not Councilman Stephen Levin. QNS regrets the error.