Hinsch’s, the legendary luncheonette and institution, whose neon sign, “Happy Days” decor, and greasy-spoon menu have changed little since 1948, has served its last egg cream.
“Basically my lease is up and that’s all,” said John Logue, who owned the old-school Fifth Avenue soda fountain between 86th and 85th streets.
Logue posted a sign announcing the closure on the store’s window on Sept. 29.
“Our lease is expiring and we decided not to renew it,” the note, signed “The Logue Family,” read. “Current economic conditions, customers changing eating patterns, and our desire to retire early have led us to this decision. We thank all of our customers for your business and appreciate your support and loyalty. We will miss serving you.”
But according to the city, that’s not the whole story.
The Health Department shut down the eatery earlier that day after inspectors said it was a magnet for rats with improperly refrigerated food and roaches in the kitchen and common areas. Prior inspections also revealed the presence of mice (eek!).
The shop was one of the borough’s last-remaining authentic soda fountains — back when soda jerks were the baristas of their day and the Hula Hoop was the toy of choice.
Landlord Anna Tesoriero said that she was seeking rent of more than $10,000 a month from Logue or a deep-pocketed corporate client to take over the space —up from the $7,500 a month Hinsch’s was paying.
But Tesoriero said the sudden closure of the store surprised her.
“He didn’t tell me anything until he put the sign up,” she said. “He’s been in there so long and he wants to retire and his children are not interested in taking it over.”
Longtime Ridgites said the closure was the end of an era for the last original ice cream shop in the neighborhood.
“I am connected to Hinsch’s in the history of my life — like everyone in Bay Ridge,” said Larry Morrish, who added that the shop donated ice cream and coffee to countless Little League games and neighborhood events over the years.
Morrish said the original owner — Herman Hinsch, who handed over the reigns to Logue’s father in 1961 — was beloved by the neighborhood kids, including a young Larry Morrish.
“I would do errands for him and get free ice cream — all the kids in the neighborhood did,” said Morrish. “Everybody liked Mr. Hinsch.”
Business leaders used the occasion of Hinsch’s closing to again flog street vendors who don’t pay rent.
“The established guys can’t compete with vendors on the corner,” said Patrick Condren, executive director of the 86th Street Business Improvement District. “It’s like a cancer that grows very slowly.”
Shifting dining habits also played a role in the decline of the luncheonette — the Hinch’s customers were mostly older Ridgites who had been eating there for years, or else they were younger people stopping by to experience the shop’s kitschy appeal.
And Peter Freeman, owner of the retro-chic Farmacy soda fountain in Carroll Gardens said that it’s hard to keep a business alive based on nostalgia alone.
“These are the places that keep the fabric of the community together — mothers and daughters sharing a uniquely American experience,” he said. “Maybe that’s not relevant anymore; maybe times have changed and your either adapt or you close.”