Downtown Express photo left by Milo Hess, photo right by Elisabeth Robert
The scene outside Bazzini last week almost resembled a Norman Rockwell painting. RIGHT:
Bazzini café was crowded in 2004.
Before it was ‘Tribeca,’ Bazzini roasted nuts. Now it plans to close
By Josh Rogers
Bazzini, perhaps Tribeca’s last tie to the old Washington Market food trading days, is looking to close up shop for good.
Rocco D’Amato, the store’s co-owner, said there are no immediate plans to close his former nut store and factory which morphed into a gourmet food market and cafe, but he and his wife are beginning to look for a tenant to take over their Tribeca space.
“Electra and I are kind of getting long in the tooth,” he said in a telephone interview last week. “There’s nothing to say now. We are eyeing leasing the space….A year or a year and a half from now, we could still be there.”
D’Amato, 64, (“my wife is a little younger,” he said diplomatically) said he and many small businesses in the neighborhood have been hurt by Whole Foods, which opened a few blocks away with 69,000 square feet — more than eight times larger than Bazzini.
“What do you think happens when you put a Wal-Mart in the neighborhood – a mall in the middle of Tribeca,” he said.
Downtown Express photo by Jefferson Siegel
Business has been down at the shop since Whole Foods opened last year.
Wal-Mart hasn’t come yet and is not expected, but Barnes & Noble and Bed, Bath & Beyond also opened in the Whole Foods condo building at Warren and Greenwich Sts. within the last two years.
“Who’s going to open a bookstore in the neighborhood,” D’Amatao asked.
The D’Amatos bought the Bazzini business and building at 339 Greenwich St. in 1983 from Teddy Bazzini, a nephew of the founder, A.L. Bazzini. Teddy told Rocco that the factory had a nuts store since the Depression. According to Bazzini’s Web site, A.L. started the wholesale business 119 years ago.
Rocco remembers buying the store two and a half decades ago when people would walk in to pay for the nuts then go outside and get them in a bag as they came down a chute. Gradually the D’Amatos expanded the retail offerings to gourmet foods and opened a cafe. In the meanwhile, they moved the factory to Hunts Point in the Bronx about 10 years ago and the building was converted to condos.
Hal Bromm, a longtime Tribeca preservationist and resident and a former president of the Historic Districts Council, said he couldn’t think of any other neighborhood business still around with its roots in the old Washington Market.
“They had a successful transformation from the old peanut roasting, to become a very attractive business,” Bromm said. “Some people say they’re the Dean & DeLuca of Tribeca and I think that’s a very apt description…. Whole Foods is a good store but I don’t think they can give you the same thing you can get at Dean & DeLuca and Bazzini.”
Bromm called Rocco and Electra “mainstays of the old market community” and enjoys seeing them and Steve Wils at neighborhood events. Wils’ family still has a butter & egg company but it is now run out of New Jersey.
Bromm and Rocco worked together to help create the neighborhood’s historic districts when they were both on Community Board 1. D’Amato also recalled C.B. 1’s efforts to rezone Tribeca in the mid-90s. Residents were concerned about preserving neighborhood shops by setting 10,000 square foot limits on retail spaces, but the bigger chains were able to open south of Chambers St., just outside of the zoning area.
It would have been unlikely for the city to have approved the tight limits at the chain store locations, which was part of an urban renewal zone.
Even if the Tribeca shop closes, the D’Amatos will still have their Bronx factory, whose peanuts feed Yankee fans at the stadium, and they also own Barricini candies. Rocco said they plan to pass their business on to their two children someday and are planning a semi-retirement with winter months in Miami and trips to South America to buy chocolates and other foods for Barricini and Bazzini.
The Tribeca store space has about 4,800 square feet on the ground floor and 3,000 square feet in the basement. D’Amato said it is unlikely he would close the store if it takes too long to find a tenant.
“That’d be a pretty tough thing to do,” he said.
Roxanne Betesh, a broker at Sinvin Realty, said a food store or restaurant would be the most likely to move into the new space.
The always optimistic real estate broker, Faith Hope Conosolo, chairperson of retail leasing and marketing at Prudential Douglas Elliman, said she heard Bazzini could be coming on the market and thought even in the current economy, it would be easy to rent the prime location to a high-end fashion tenant.
“That address would be snapped up in a minute,” she said.