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CAN WE SAVE THE SMOKE SHOP?
Thursday, 26 April 2012 14:38
By Robin Jovanovich
The old-fashioned charm and character of our community is on the endangered list. Peg and Tony D’Onofrio, owners of The Smoke Shop, received a letter April 25 from their landlord, Fareri Associates of Greenwich, confirming their fear that their lease will not be renewed, and once the owner receives a building permit to renovate the space, they will have four months to vacate.
A member of the D’Onofrio family has operated the Smoke Shop for 42 years. It’s called TD’s Smoke Shop after Tony’s father. Peg started working there part-time when her husband was alive, and has long worked alongside her son.
Three and a half years ago, the building was sold to Fareri Associates.
“Soon after they took over, in December 2008, we started receiving notifications that our lease was null and void,” said Tony. “We’ve been worried ever since we learned our lease wasn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. Our lawyer confirmed that.” Since that time, the D’Onofrios have been offered one-year extensions, from April to April.
When Rags owner Kevin Butler, another longtime merchant, heard the news, he offered to print posters to put all over town and have T-shirts made with an appeal to save the Rye institution. “If we lose the Smoke Shop, the complexion of the town will change,” said Butler, who is closing his women’s clothing store on Purchase Street after 37 years.
“How do you help the mom and pops?” asked Butler. “Can we create a fund to help old timers stay?”
While many of the residents and business owners we spoke to said they’d be sorry to see one of Rye’s longest-running businesses close, none were optimistic about the Smoke Shop’s chances. The owner has the right to renovate the space and find a new tenant once he has.
The landlord, John Fareri, President and CEO of Fareri Associates, returned our call a few days before the D’Onofrios received the letter informing them that their lease would not be renewed.
“We bought the building in 2008 with the intent of renovating it,” said Fareri. “The recession hit, and I wasn’t in a big rush.
“I feel for Tony and Peg. We never raised their rent. Their rent doesn’t cover my expenses and I know they can’t afford the market rent. I’ve been reluctant. I have compassion, too. Should I leave the asset untouched?”
Meanwhile, both tenant and landlord received notice that an ADA non-compliance lawsuit has been brought against them by a handicapped Rye resident. The individual has successfully sued a number of other Rye businesses. The increasingly common and costly form of harassment hits small businesses especially hard.
Debbie Strati-Padawer, a realtor with Coldwell Banker, said her heart goes out to the D’Onofrios. “They’ve been good tenants for so long. And if they lose the Smoke Shop they lose everything that has meaning to them.” She added, “If they are forced to close, it will be the end of an era for Rye as well, because that corner shop is a landmark in Rye.”
Tony said, “We can’t pay what our landlord considers market rate, $45 a square foot. But how many tenants have been able to pay that the last two years and stay in business? European Boutique lasted about a year next door. Merchants are struggling and Rye doesn’t really need another hair and nail salon.” He continued, “We always hoped he would give us a real lease. It may have been an irrational hope.”
The future of The Framing Corner on Elm Place is also threatened. Owner Pat Porto, who’s been in the space for over 30 years, said she’s also on a month-to-month lease with Fareri Associates. “I don’t really know where I’ll go. I’m a religious person and I’m counting on God to guide me.