Old haunt comes back to life in Brooklyn Heights
When a neighborhood institution shutters, it’s usually gone for good.
And so it seemed Armando’s restaurant was lost forever in March 2008, when its familiar neon lobster sign came down from its longtime perch at 143 Montague St. in Brooklyn Heights.
But the next tenant, Spicy Pickle, soured in the tough economy.
“It was a disaster. They didn’t do well in the neighborhood at all,” said Peter Byros, who runs Armando’s and owns the building.
He had closed Armando’s because he wanted to retire. Fortunately for Armando’s fans, Byros had hung on to the old sign and phone number of the more than 70-year-old restaurant.
His daughter, Maria Byros, convinced her father to revive the restaurant, which reopened in September.
Before becoming the restaurant’s general manager, Maria Byros was a real-estate agent and knew her father would have a tough time finding a new tenant.
“Rents have lowered, but there are still plenty of vacant businesses on Montague,” she said.
By most accounts, times are tough on Montague Street.
The same forces that drove Spicy Pickle under have left a number of storefronts vacant.
The block has at least five empty storefronts between Clinton and Henry streets alone.
One of the saving graces for older businesses is that some own their buildings. The Rivera family has owned Variety Mart, across the street from Armando’s, since the early 1950s.
Although they don’t have to worry about skyrocketing rents, they do have to struggle with high real estate taxes and insurance fees among other expenses, owner Juan Rivera said.
He said he’s seen a lot of changes on Montague Street as butchers and bakeries are replaced by chain stores.
“We’re a dying breed,” he said of his own mom-and-pop shop, “but we’re not gonna die just yet.”