But unlike other days, after serving his final slice on that busy Sunday, Falsetta closed the doors of his 22-year-old pizzeria for the last time.
Folding his business after more than two decades was not his choice. The Middle Village native said he was evicted from his 550-square-foot storefront at 64-60 Dry Harbor Road when it became impossible to meet the lease terms the new landlord imposed on tenants after buying the building earlier last year.
Falsetta said his monthly rent nearly doubled from $1950 to $3400. When Falsetta could not pay the increase, the landlord served him with an eviction notice and removed the lease option that would allow him to sell his business.
“I had to take the loss, which means I can’t reopen at another location,” said the pizza owner. “To start from scratch would cost upwards of $80,000, a cost I cannot afford to incur.”
Jessie Lee, owner of Queens-based Harbor NY Corp., paid $2.1 million last February for Dry Harbor Pizza and a swath of five connecting storefronts along the narrow strip of Dry Harbor Road between 64th Road and Furmanville Avenue.
Creative Cuts hair salon and Selective Properties Realty, which adjoin the pizzeria, were also evicted from their longstanding locations when they couldn’t afford the near 100 percent rent hike.
“The landlord wanted to increase my rent by $1,300 a month and told me I had to make improvements to my shop on top of that,” said Creative Cuts owner Julia Szewczyk, who closed her store in July after 16 years at the location.
The business owner said she considered moving to Metropolitan Avenue, but monthly storefront rents there were as high as $4,000. For now, she’s opted to work for another salon owner.
“Hopefully one day I will be able to have my own business again, but with increasing rents it’s so hard,” Szewczyk said.
Indeed, retail rents have skyrocketed 22 percent citywide between 2007 and 2017, according to the most recent figures compiled by city Comptroller Scott Stringer.
Realtors report that rent gouging during lease renewal puts small businesses at the mercy of landlords, leaving many with no option but to close up shop.
Rising rents have translated into vacant storefronts. Some of the most dramatic increases in retail vacancies have been in Queens neighborhoods, according to the report. Middle Village, for example, has a vacancy rate of around 10 percent, or double the citywide average.
The broader online retail trend is also contributing to the death knell of mom-and-pop establishments and making it more difficult for tenants and landlords alike to keep afloat.
Lee insists she would fall short of paying her $40,000 property tax bill without raising the existing tenants’ rents, although she denied jacking up their monthly fees by thousands of dollars.
When pressed, she referred additional questions to her attorney, who offered no further comment.
“Dry Harbor Road just doesn’t have the foot traffic to warrant these kinds of rents,” said Matthew Spezzano, owner of Selective Properties Realty, who relocated his storefront in August from Dry Harbor Road to 79th Place in Glendale. “Thirty years ago, I would have said buy commercial, but times have changed.”
Now, Spezzano said, landlords would rather leave properties vacant and write off their loss than offer cheaper rents to tenants.
All six storefronts owned by Lee on Dry Harbor Road, including the former locations of Danny Boy’s Pub and Restaurant and corner Tiramisu cafe, are now empty.
Longtime owners of the Jade Bamboo Chinese restaurant at the southwestern corner of the block recently sold their storefront, and the owners of neighboring Matsons Deli are looking to sell after 35 years in business.
Lee said a new pizzeria will soon open at the former Harbor Pizza spot, and a chicken franchise is interested in leasing space on the block as well.
A recorded message on Falsetta’s voicemail urges customers not to patronize the pizzeria that moves into his former space.
“Harbor Pizza pleads to its loyal customers to shop elsewhere at all costs if this new business does open because of what has been done to me and my workers,” says Falsetta on the recording. “They can take away my store but they can’t take away the memories and the times we had together. Harbor Pizza now has to say good-bye.”