The owners of an imperiled Boerum Hill deli have staged an “artisanal takeover” of their 25-year-old corner store, re-branding products with yuppified names and jacking up prices to illustrate the kind of shop that could afford the 250-percent rent hike they say the store’s landlord is demanding.
Tongue-in-cheek posters advertising a “landlord price hike sale” at Jesse’s Deli, on the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Bond Street, show what neighbors can expect to pay if a new store hopes to cover the inflated rent, said one worker.
“That’s how much stuff is going to have to cost,” said Abed Hussein, who has worked at the shop for eight years. “It’s easy to get a lease, but not so easy to get people to buy stuff that expensive.”
The store re-branded packets of Goya Sazon sauce as “Oaxacan Sea Salt Taco Rub” — yours for just $18! — Slim Jims as “Hand-Cured Salami Tubes” — a steal at $5.99 a pop — and Raid as $15.99 “Artisanal Roach Bombs.”
The stunt — inside the products and prices have not actually changed — is a protest against landlord Karina Bilger’s plan to jack up the rent by two-and-a-half times the current rate, said Mohamad Itayim, son of eponymous founder Jesse Itayim. The store is currently paying $4,000 a month, and Bilger plans to raise that to $10,000 when the store’s lease expires at the end of July, he said.
Advertising pros and Jesse’s regulars Tommy Noonan and Douglas Cameron said they came up with the concept and constructed the posters after they learned of the deli’s plight and wanted to use their public relations know-how to help out.
“We kinda put our heads together and decided it would get more attention if we could show how ridiculous the neighborhood is getting,” said Noonan, who lives in Carroll Gardens but frequents the deli with Cameron, who lives nearby. “There are all these different baby stores and everything has like, the word ‘Berkshire’ in it.”
The community has rallied around the shop, gathering signatures and holding a meeting last month to brainstorm ways to save their beloved bodega. The owners say they are looking for a new location, and now that they have seen how much their little store means to neighbors, it will have to be somewhere nearby.
“We didn’t know how appreciated we were until now,” said Itayim. “After all the support we got, we’re only looking in this neighborhood.”
Rents have risen all along Atlantic Avenue, once a bastion of antique stores and inexpensive Middle Eastern food, during the past decade, as the neighborhood has changed and real estate brokers re-branded the area itself as “BoCoCa.” Itayim said he appreciates some of the transformations — for one, it is now safe to be outside after dark — but they have come at the literal expense of humble stores like Jesse’s.
“What mom and pop can afford that kind of rent?” he said.
Bilger could not be reached for comment.