Hold That Coffee! Starbucks Not Coming to ‘Burg

A Williamsburg bagel store’s rent will double next year, leaving its owner scrambling, and sparking fresh concerns from local merchants that another chain could soon be taking its place.

The Bagel Store’s (247 Bedford Avenue) owner Scott Rossillo, who has operated his shop on 247 Bedford Avenue since 2001, confirmed this week that his landlord, Yehuda Backer of The Backer Group, will increase his rent from $7,300 a month to $14,500 a month by the time his lease expires in November 2011.

According to Rossillo, Backer hinted that a Starbucks coffee shop was poised to take over the storefront.

“Do I think it’s worth $15,000 a month? It’s not worth $15,000 a month,” said Rossillo. “You’re going to have a tough time there unless it’s corporate money. He [Backer] told me, he’s getting ridiculous offers from Starbucks.”

The rumor began to spread last week on Eater and on Gothamist, where Rossillo compared his landlord to an organized crime syndicate and said that, “We’re not going to be raped.” Backer did not return calls for comment by the time this article went to press.

While several merchants on Bedford Avenue said they were aware of the rumor, Williamsburg community leaders do not believe that a Starbucks will be moving to the neighborhood’s bustling hipster corridor anytime soon. Community Board 1 Land Use Chair Ward Dennis wrote that the landlord’s Starbucks threat was more likely a “for instance” and that there were many places that a Starbucks could move into this year that are ready for commercial retail while the Bagel Store’s lease will not expire for another eighteen months.

“If Starbucks wanted a store in Williamsburg, they’d have a store in Williamsburg,” said Dennis.

EWVIDCO Executive Director Leah Archibald, who works with the Bedford Avenue Merchants Association, pointed to Starbucks’ financial outlook over the past year, which has led to the closure of 300 stores in 2009 in addition to another 600 store closures over the previous summer.

“Starbucks is not blanketing America with new stores,” said Archibald, while noting that the merchants association is determining how to help existing businesses cope with competition from national chains and encourage more local ownership of retail storefronts.

When asked for comment about opening a new store in Williamsburg, a spokesperson from Starbucks would not confirm that it is looking towards 247 Bedford Avenue as a new location for its store, while explaining that “Starbucks looks for sites that are visible and easy to find, and buildings that can support Starbucks signage and have large windows that allow natural lighting in the stores.”

Whether a Starbucks is coming or not, Rossillo is facing a steep rent increase that he cannot afford to pay. He is beginning to look for new sites, possibly in Williamsburg’s south side or in Bushwick, where the rent is more reasonable and he can still produce $0.85 bagels with acceptable profit margins.

“Bagel Smith $1 a bagel. I’m still charging .85 cents. How can I raise it where everyone, including myself, is suffering?” said Rossillo.

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