New Jersey Jewish News
A Staples moves in, and a pair of neighborhood staples close shop
For more than a quarter century, Tabatchniks Smoke House and Amsters Bakery fixtures at the Millburn Mall in Union have been places where customers could get all the fixings for Sunday brunch: some nice smoked fish, kippered salmon spread or pastrami and a fresh onion roll or a Danish to go with it.
As of July 9, their patrons will have to look elsewhere.
The two establishments were to close their doors July 9 as part of a large-scale remodeling project at the open-air strip mall. They and two other stores will make way for a Staples office supply store. Maple Kosher Meats will relocate to another section of the mall, while Bottle Crown Liquors is moving out of the mall, which opened in 1963. (Mosaica, a kosher restaurant, will remain at the mall.)
Work has already begun. Awnings have all been removed; wire fences, sheets of plywood, and orange cones mark off potentially hazardous areas, creating a gloomy feeling that matched the mood of a recent cloudy day.
Seymour Tabatchnicks grandfather, Louis, started the family business in 1905, followed by his son, Joseph. The Union store opened in 1966, one of approximately 16 stores Tabatchnick has owned over the years.
Theyre all sorry to see us go, said Seymour Tabatchnick in an interview following the lunchtime rush. A handful of customers lingered at tables, enjoying a hot dog or pastrami sandwich.
Anita Tosky of Bayonne chatted with the proprietor as she munched on a hot dog. She stops by whenever she is in the neighborhood, she said. I think its terrible [that theyre closing the store]. Theres nothing like this in Bayonne. I dont know what Im going to do.
Of all the stores Tabatchnick has had in New York and New Jersey, This is the last one.
Most of the leases [of mall storeowners] are up, he continued. People like ourselves are moving out because number one, we cant pay the rent, and number two, we have to help pay for the improvements [at the Mall]. Its a lot of expense, which is not warranted.
Jeff Dash, vice president of leasing at The Lightstone Group, which manages the Millburn Mall, denied Tabatchnicks claim. Number one, the leases have not been doubled, and number two some of the leases have expired, he said, adding that Tabatchnicks lease ran out quite a few months ago.
Tabatchnick said his concern was not for himself, but for his customers. Where are they going to go for their fish? he asked. Were the only place left in New Jersey where we actually manufacture everything. We have our own smokehouses. We buy the fish direct from the fishermen. It comes in fresh and we smoke it.
Fish is an item, he added. Its not like meat. Meat you can freeze, chicken you can freeze. But when you freeze fish, its not good. Fish, you got to eat fresh. He showed off two large closet-shaped smokers, fragrant from decades of processing.
Tabatchnick, whose son Ben is president and CEO of Tabatchnick Fine Foods Inc. of Somerset, manufacturer of the famed frozen soups, lamented the fortunes of mom-and-pop operations like his.
America is changing, he said. All the businesses in the country are going to be the same; the same stores are all over the country. Theres no more fun.
At the same time, he admitted his particular products arent as popular as they used to be. When his grandfather founded the company, he said, most of the clientele was Russian and Polish; the food reminded them of the old country. Three generations later, he finds that people no longer have the same tastes.
Tabatchnick is not the type to wallow in self-pity or waste his energy on the seeming unfairness of his situation. Im first starting. Im going to do something else, thats all. Asked if he didnt yearn to take some time to relax and enjoy the fish of his labors, the spry 85-year-old said, What am I supposed to be doing? Playing golf? Playing poker? Playing tennis? Are you kidding? Im just getting started.
He has a bowlful of plans, including catering New York brunches to businesses in Manhattan. We originated the Sloppy Joe, he said proudly, referring not to the ground beef and tomato sauce dish, but to something more akin to a club sandwich. Were taking on New York City, Long Island, and New Jersey. Were going to delivery to commercial offices only.
Phillip Sonny Amster has been Tabatchnicks next-door business neighbor since 1981. A relocation list sits on the glass counter, full of names and addresses of loyal customers who want to be informed when he reopens in Springfield. He also has a bagel store in South Orange and was the owner of Watson Bagels and Elmora Bagels.
Its the end of an era, said Amster, echoing Tabatchnicks sentiments. Things come to an end.
Amster, a football star at Newarks South Side High School in the 1950s, doesnt share the squeezing out theory. A few years ago, Vauxhall Road was shut down for an extended period for repairs. When they closed the road, business started to fall off. People wouldnt come around and I started to fall behind in the rent. Amster said he might have been able to reach an accommodation with his previous landlord, but he passed away and Amster has no relationship with the new one. What are you going to do? he asked.
Like his neighbor Tabatchnick, Amster said hes too young to retire. Ill find something to do, he said. If you stop, you just wait for the end.
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