Upper West Side residents are mourning the loss of H&H bagels, which closed this week after almost four decades serving up the classic Jewish food. But one New York bagel lover is not taking the news lying down.
James Besser, a freelance musician who has lived on the Upper West Side for 30 years, passed out fliers urging people to join him in preserving the famed institution. Besser, (no relation to the former Jewish Week Washington correspondent) held a meeting in Riverside Park earlier this week, to form “The Upper West Side Preservation Committee,” he said. “The purpose will be to support mom-and-pop stores and to promote small town values. It’s about the future of the Upper West Side as a neighborhood.” About 25 people showed up to the event, and discussed how to save the store, but no concrete plans were made.
While the company gave no official reason behind the closing, owner Helmer Toro has been under pressure since he was found guilty of tax fraud in 2009, and filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, according to the Wall Street Journal. According to Besser, Toro is collaborating with him to gain support for the store’s preservation, paying for a permit and loudspeaker system for the event. Marc Fintz, a spokesperson for the company, attended the meeting and expressed appreciate for the support.
Workers at the Broadway bagel store were instructed not to speak to reporters, but said the store will likely close Wednesday, though they had previously given Sunday as the final day of operation. The office number listed on the H&H web site has been disconnected.
Residents and tourists alike trickled in to the store last week, some to get their first taste of the famous bagel and others their last.
“I’m really sad,” said Gaby Armour, an Upper West Side resident. “I come here every day to get my sons’ bagels. [When he heard it was closing], my older son said he would never eat bagels again.”
Gil Marks, the food historian and author of “The Encylopedia of Jewish Food,” and himself a long-time Upper West Side resident, called H&H “unquestionably the most famous bagel store in the world,” referencing its appearances in Seinfeld, and various other television shows and movies, including the 1998 film “You’ve Got Mail.” While the midtown branch and plant of H&H will remain open, “this is the first one,” said Marks. “This is the community one.”