Pizza and Pasta, located in the Financial District's Southbridge Towers, is forced to close
Last week, several wheelchair-bound, elderly residents of Southbridge Towers tried to meet at their usual spot, Pizza and Pasta (77 Fulton Street), only to find that it was gone. Because it was Thanksgiving, everything else was closed - but Pasta and Pizza had always stayed open on holidays for those who had nowhere else to go.
Pasta and Pizza's owner, Michael Magliulo, opened the shop 34 years ago. He watched neighborhood children grow up, paid for some resident's funerals, and handed out water on September 11th and during subsequent blackouts.
"They were always so welcoming, so friendly and neighborly," said 77 Fulton Street resident Christine Tabone of the pizza shop that she stopped in every week with her daughter, Violetta, 12. "They'd say, 'Oh, she's getting so big,' to my daughter. They were such a big a part of the community."
Pizza and Pasta stayed put during the two years that DeLury Square Park construction was underway, a project that obscured sidewalk space, created dangerous street crossings, and caused a severe, unending rat infestation that terrorized residents.
On October 16th, Magliulo received a letter telling him that he had until November 30th to vacate the premises.
The issue was this: the small, adjacent retail space next door, sandwiched between residential building 77 Fulton Street and the Pizza and Pasta space, has been vacant for the better part of a year. Because the storefront is "obscured" by DeLury Square Park, it has been essentially "unrentable," on its own, according to John Fratta, a resident of 77 Fulton Street and a member of the Southbridge Towers Board of Directors.
"Anyone who rents that space wants to have visibility from the street, and when they built the park, they took visibility away from the store," he said.
A deal has already reportedly been made with the owners of the 55 Fulton Market/Key Food to put a Korean Bakery in both spaces, and local residents are shocked.
According to Fratta, they had no choice but to rent out the space to other tenants. "Mike's lease was almost up anyway and he opted not to renew his lease," said Fratta.
Magliulo tells it differently: in 2008, he says, he made a five-year deal with management to extend his lease, with a clause that said he would then pay market value for another five years after that. He went ahead and filed renovation plans with an architect soon after, which cost him about $12,000. Several months later, he was told that the deal was suddenly off the table.
"They should have given me first right of refusal before conducting businesses with a second party. I had a good, loyal relationship with all of the previous Southbridge Boards. They would have never done this to me," Migliulo said.
Fratta said that while it is a loss for Southbridge, the Board had a responsibility to shareholders to be able to bring in money for commercial spaces.
"A lot of the residents of Southbridge used to go in there every afternoon, and Mike was a good tenant of Southbridge. It's a pity that we lost him," he said.
Residents say that Mike's pizza shop is essentially irreplaceable - though he does still have his second location in Battery Park, over at 303 South End Avenue.
"If a bakery is going in, they're going to have to work hard to be as welcoming to the community as Pizza and Pasta was. I don't know that its smart for Southbridge to have all of their real estate eggs in one basket," said Tabone. "My daughter has said we are going to boycott the new place."