Yesterday Ruby’s put on its fighting gloves and circulated a petition (now over 1,000 signatures strong) that it plans to deliver to Marty Markowitz (who, truth be told, is already sympathetic to the cause) as well as to Zamperla, the landlord that’s booting it from the boardwalk after 76 years. But forget the one-line rally cries and tabloid sound bites: In order to get a grip on the situation as it now stands, we had to have a proper conversation with owner Michael Sarrel. Here’s what he told us yesterday evening.
Your neighbor Cha Cha said all the businesses were meeting with a lawyer. Has that happened yet?
To my understanding, there are several meetings with lawyers — they haven’t happened yet.
Do you think you have a strong case?
I have enough personal experience with lawyers and the justice system to realize that usually there’s very little justice — so perhaps that’ll work to our benefit [laughs]. Or perhaps it’ll work against us. We’re looking to get more time.
You’ve known for years that any given year might be your last. Was it really such a surprise?
It didn’t come out of the blue, but it was nothing we were expecting. In the past, the reason we thought we’d be gone was because the buildings would be demolished and there’d be no place to be. But Ruby’s has been up there for 76 years and we’ve had it as a family for 35, and every one of them we’ve always paid our rent. So what other tenant do you want besides someone that’s paying your rent?
I hear you put a lot of money — something like $40,000 — into renovations, expecting to stay.
Last year we put in well over $40,000. Everyone was told, “Some businesses will stay, others will go.” You’ve been to Coney Island: If you thought someone was going to stay, wouldn’t you think Ruby’s, the oldest operating business on the boardwalk, would be one of the businesses that would stay?
What did the business plan you submitted to Zamperla look like? Did you tell them you’d make improvements?
Everybody up there said that we were going to make improvements because it’s sort of like, the teacher is telling you, “We want you to make improvements.” What are you going to tell the teacher, “No, we’re not going to do it?”
Do you have enough time to vacate?
I can’t move in twelve days. We’ve had this business for almost 40 years — how do you move a business you’ve had for 40 years? This is like losing a member of your family, so when we got that notice we were in mourning. You can’t think straight; it takes time to get your brain together.
Have you told Zamperla as much?
I’ve explained to them it’s a time of mourning for my wife and sister-in-law — their father is Ruby. It’s like he died again. I told him it’s unreasonable to get out in fifteen days.
What did they say?
That’s a conversation I’d rather not have at this time.
So are you going to start taking the bar down, or do you think there’s hope?
We are 75 percent resolved that it’s over; however, we’re 25 percent resolved that it’s not.
Have they already signed contracts with the new tenants?
The conversation I had with [Zamperla president] Mr. [Valerio] Ferrari is that he has letters of intent — those were his words. The reality of Coney Island is, the businesses don’t make the kind of money they did back in their heyday. I’m not sure these new businesses are going to be able to sustain the expenses that are going to be involved. I understand about wanting Coney to be a twelve-month business, but you go to Coney tomorrow and see who’s on the boardwalk, and when you have a rainy weekend or two, it’s going to be difficult.
Would you be open to relocating somewhere else nearby? Is that a possibility?
It’s possible if there were another location on the boardwalk for us to move to that it’d be something we might consider, but I had preliminary conversations with the city and they said there’s nothing. Part of our charm is that you can sit there and see the ocean. If it’s moved inland, you don’t see the ocean — unless you have a big screen in the place, playing footage of waves!
What do you hope to accomplish with this rally on Saturday?
For Saturday, my intent quite honestly is to just open up the place for business for possibly the last time. As far as any rally goes, those are patrons putting it together. I’m pleased by it, but for me I’m just opening up my business for what might be the last time. I’m Jewish, so we sit shiva and it’s a time of mourning, and Christians have a wake which is a time of celebration — so I think we’ve mourned now and on Saturday we plan to celebrate.
Sign the petition to save Ruby’s here.