Pier 17 Holdout, Simply Seafood, Is Now Thrown Out of Condemned Mall

In a shipping container behind the condemned Pier 17 mall, Joseph Demane looks over the remnants of his business, Simply Seafood. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Nov. 18, 2013

Pacing back and forth behind the condemned Pier 17 mall, until last Thursday the site of his food court business, Simply Seafood owner Joseph Demane spoke on the phone to an auctioneer. It was time to get rid of the remnants of his store, now piled like junk in a nearby shipping container.

“The fryers are in there, the grill’s in there—pretty much everything except the two walk-ins,” he told the auctioneer.

Returning to his belongings, he stared with dismay at what was left of Simply Seafood, a family Seaport business dating back to the 1940s. “It’s all just basically equipment that is fifteen to twenty years old, so whatever he wants to come in and give me for it…,” Demane said, his voice trailing off.

On the advice of their lawyer, Joseph and his father, John Demane, had kept their restaurant open seven days a week, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., in the otherwise deserted mall. (The rest of the tenants vacated their shops in September.)

Last Wednesday, a state Supreme Court judge ruled that the Howard Hughes Corp. had the right to evict Simply Seafood. Two days later, Joseph Demane was locked out of the building.

“It would have been a little more amicable if they had said, ‘All right, you have a week to get your stuff out,’ rather than just coming in and seeing everything thrown into a storage container,” said Demane.

“It’s really upsetting, but what can you do?” said Justin Owusu, who had worked for the Demanes for some 30 years and is now without a job.

“I’ve got nothing,” he said. “It’s very, very difficult.”

In his decision, Judge Shlomo Hagler wrote that South Street Seaport Limited Partnership, a subsidiary of Hughes Corp., the pier’s leaseholder, was “entitled to possession” of the 550-square-foot space. The Demanes had run Simply Seafood in the mall’s third-floor court since 1995.

The Demanes had maintained that their lease was valid until 2020. But the judge ruled that they had been in default of their lease and therefore lost the right to renew it. The judge has yet to determine how much Simply Seafood owes the developer in back rent, interest and utility charges. Hughes Corp. claims that amount exceeds $1 million.

In an interview with the Trib at the loading dock on Monday, Joseph Demane denied owing money to the Hughes Corp. and insisted that he and his father “did nothing wrong.” “[The judge] said that we were frequently late with payments, and that really isn’t true,” he said. “But the judge ruled the way he ruled. Obviously, you can’t argue with him.”

The Hughes Corp. can now go forward with its plans to demolish the mall and replace it with a $200-million, glass-walled shopping center.

In an emailed statement, a spokeswoman for the developer said, “While the Howard Hughes Corporation inherited this situation from the previous landlords, we are pleased that it has been resolved after a long and arduous process.”

Demane came into work on Thursday, the day after the judgment, and served some customers, though “my heart wasn’t in it,” he said. The next day, the building’s main entrance was locked.

“It’s disheartening,” Demane said of the decision. “Nothing we said really resonated with the judge. We were willing to work with [Hughes], but obviously they had their own plan.”

Does he regret all the long hours he spent at the empty mall, manning his restaurant to the very end?

“No,” he replied, without hesitation. “I said a million times that I’ll go down fighting—I wasn’t just going to give it to them.”