Polonia Closes After 28 Years; Owner Cites ‘End of the Era of Small Businesses’

Polonia RestaurantAnthony Ptak

After 28 years in the East Village, the owners of Polonia have closed shop after their landlord said she would more than triple their rent.

“I came here from Poland, my husband and I raised our children, and ran this business. We worked hard. I did everything I could,” Renata Jurczyk, who owns Polonia with her husband Jozef, said in Polish. “The landlords are killing small businesses in this neighborhood with the rent.”

The family had a small, informal gathering at Polonia last night with longtime customers. “After all these years, Polonia was important to the East Village,” said Ms. Jurczyk, 51. “When I told customers who have been coming here a long time that we’re closing, they started crying. They were Poles and non-Poles, and it was their second home.”

Ms. Jurczyk and her son Paul, 23, said they closed on Christmas Eve after the landlord, Ludmilla Lozowy, said she would raise their rent from $3,500 to $12,000 per month starting February 2012. “I tried to do something, but the landlord said we pay too little,” said Ms. Jurczyk.

Ms. Lozowy offered a lower rent of $10,500, but it was still too high, said Ms. Jurczyk. Ms. Lozowy did not return calls for comment.

“If you have a [full] liquor license, maybe you can afford that rent,” said Ms. Jurczyk, who had only a beer and wine license. “But we don’t. And the people who come to us are not rich; they are working hard and suffering too, in this economy.” Her son said they had been breaking even in earnings, even after making cuts to staff and elsewhere to lower their spending.

But the family isn’t completely retiring from the business, as they already have plans for a new online-only store, called NYC Pierogi Factory. Mr. Jurczyk is working on building the site. “We’re going to sell Polish food online. We’ll have a large assortment of pierogi, 20 different kinds. We’ll see how many we can come up with,” said Mr. Jurczyk. “We’ll have my mom’s baked goods. She’s an excellent baker.” They’ll also make catering deliveries in Manhattan, and ship vacuum-sealed pierogi nationwide. “Not the frozen kind. That’s not the same. These you have to cook yourself,” he laughed.

Ms. Jurczyk will be cleaning out the restaurant over the next month and must vacate by the end of January. She said she’s retiring, and is relieved. “I’m going to rest. That’s right, I feel good about that. The restaurant business is a hard business. I was a waitress, cook, and cleaning crew. I’m ready for lots of rest.”

Mr. Jurczyk said he was worried for his mom’s health, and was glad she’s retiring. “My parents haven’t left this country for 18 years. I think my mom’s passport is expired. They need a break.”

He said he had heard that an Italian eatery could be taking over the Polonia space, and that the owner would be a local: “It would be a completely different restaurant serving small, Italian plates. I heard the owner would want a liquor license. He’s willing to pay $8,000 a month, so I’m not sure how that will go.”

“It’s the end of the era of small businesses in the East Village,” said Ms. Jurczyk. “They’re closing and being thrown out.”