By Rita J. Egan
Fast-food company Chick-fil-A hopes to bring its chicken to Smithtown — but residents aren’t as eager to get a taste.
The addition of Chick-fil-A would mean the demolition of the structure that is home to Bagel Gallery, Pub 347, Kempo Karate, The Foot Relaxation Spot, and empty storefronts. A petition with almost 5,000 signatures has been created against the restaurant.
Bagel Gallery owner John Ahr said when he first heard of the fast-food chain’s intention two and a half months ago, he couldn’t bring himself to talk about it with anyone.
“When I heard this was going down, I cried,” he said. His establishment has been around for the past 30 years.
Ahr said he found the supportive comments people have left on the petition site heartwarming, but he feels it may not be of much help.
“Like everyone says it’s not going to be a problem … it’s Chick-fil-A,” he said.
Ahr, who grew up in Smithtown and graduated from Smithtown West High School in 1978, began working in the bagel shop back in 1980, and in 1985 he and his brother-in-law bought the store. Now a resident of Centereach, he and his wife Donna have worked at the 24-hour spot for decades, including holidays, with their children Nick, Tony and Jamie.
When Ahr first talked to his landlord about the plans, he said, “It may be your building but it’s my home.”
A public relations employee at Jackson Spalding, the firm handling Chick-fil-A, said the chicken joint is eager to join the Smithtown community.
“We are pleased to be joining the Hauppauge community as we look to open a new Chick-fil-A restaurant at the intersection of Routes 111 and 347,” he said in an email. “We look forward to becoming a great neighbor and partner in the community, and to serving all guests great food in a welcoming restaurant environment.”
However, when it came to issues with the property and the decision to take over land currently used by businesses like Bagel Gallery, the employee said “We have been working with the landlord directly and are not privy to the details of the previous tenants’ leases.”
A representative for the property owner, 111 Associates, LLC, said the landlord did not have any comment at the time.
According to the Smithtown Zoning Board Chick-fil-A is requesting several variances including “drive-up windows [that] shall not face a residence district” and a reduction in the “planting area along front property lines from 25 to 6 feet.” Smithtown’s Planning Director David Flynn said he met with Chick-fil-A representatives about six months ago, and while they didn’t discuss all the reasons the restaurant picked the spot at the intersection of Routes 111 and 347, the location of the other two Chick-fil-As was a consideration.
“They’re building one in Commack by the [Long Island] Expressway, and they opened one on the bypass in Port Jefferson by 112,” he said. “I guess this is kind of halfway between the two. I think it strategically is where they can get the most customers. It’s not too close to one of their other restaurants.”
Todd Feldman, owner of Pub 347, said his business would close if Chick-fil-A gets the go ahead from the town of Smithtown to build in the shopping center.
“It’s putting me out of business,” he said.
He also fears the traffic impact of the fast-food stop.
“It’s going to make it [traffic] 10 times worse,” Feldman said.
Ahr said as of now he has until Feb. 10 to vacate the premises, which means he would have to close on Jan. 31 to have enough time to clean out his equipment. He said he and his wife have been looking at new locations, and customers have told them they would follow the bagel store wherever they go.
“We are people of faith. We trust God. Our lives are in his hands, and it’s going to be the way it’s going to be. As much as it hurts, it’s part of life, too. Things happen,” Ahr said.
The proposal will be presented at a zoning board meeting Tuesday, July 12.