Time to say goodbye: Hinsch’s to close March 1

It is the end of an era.

Just over a year after closing and reopening under new ownership, Hinsch’s Luncheonette is closing its doors again, this time for good. The 64-year-old community soda fountain’s last day inside its vintage shop on Fifth Avenue is slated for Friday, March 1.

It was a tough, but necessary, decision to make, said co-owner Roger Desmond, who along with business partners Gerard Bell and Bill Gardell reopened the space on November 28, 2011, after taking it over from former long-time owner John Logue.

“We’ve grown the business and it’s still not making money; I don’t think we can grow it more,” Desmond explained, noting that gross revenues had about doubled, but they would have had to double again to make the business viable. “Apparently, its time has passed. It’s a sad thing, but you’ve got to face reality.”

Asked what the biggest obstacle Hinsch’s faced was, Desmond ruefully noted that “there’s not always one thing,” but “lack of interest” and changing shopping habits and commute routes hurt business more than economic troubles. “It wasn’t good,” he noted. “A day like today, it’s beautiful out, it’s warm, and there’s nobody here. You don’t pay this kind of rent in a location like this and have a day like we had today. It’s totally disheartening, doing everything we can for a year, then to have an empty store. So we’re cutting our losses and saying goodbye.”

Saying goodbye is something residents now have around six weeks to do.

“Oh God, it can’t [close],” said a heartbroken Tommy Gross upon hearing the news. “Hinsch’s has food that’s better quality, that’s [served in] a better dining experience. These kids today didn’t grow up with parents taking them there so they don’t know what it is. You lose the store, you also lose the culture and the community.”

Gross, 37, is a Hinsch’s and mom-and-pop store aficionado who has collected hundreds of items of vintage store memorabilia from all over the neighborhood. He “grew up in an era where store owners were friends. I still know my butcher and my bakery owner.

“When you lose a place like that, there’s a neighborhood gap,” said Gross. “These [small businesses] are integral parts of the neighborhood. A lot of old people go to Hinsch’s to meet friends and it becomes more than a place to get hamburgers, soda, and ice cream.”

“Hinsch’s has always been one of my favorite places to go,” said Josephine Beckmann, district manager of Community Board 10. “It’s really an institution, loved and revered by so many in our community. I was just there [and had my regular order of] chicken over salad and strawberry ice cream with a little chocolate syrup… It’s very sad.”

“We all came here as kids, I came here in high school. It’s very unfortunate. We were full of optimism, excited about the name and the legend – we respected that,” said Desmond. “It’s what it’s been, we still have a great menu, we still make our ice cream. So [all that’s left] is the last [few] days to come and enjoy it.”

Hinsch’s originally opened in 1915 as Reichert’s ice cream parlor before business owner Herman Hinsch took over in 1948. It was shuttered suddenly on September 29, 2011, by Logue, whose decision was spurred by “current economic conditions, customers’ changing eating patterns and [the Logue family’s] desire to retire early.” Desmond, Bell and Gardell then took over.

Reporting contributed by Thomas Nocera.

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