Judge Cooper said he would render a written decision on the tax dispute in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, whoever occupies the space come April 1 can expect the rent to skyrocket. Under Florent’s existing lease, signed in 1995, Mr. Morellet now pays just $6,018 per month for the roughly 1,500-square-foot space with the pink neon window sign and pink ceiling. That’s about $48 per square foot annually in a neighborhood where asking rents now go as high as $500 per square foot.
Mr. Morellet previously told The Observer that the landlord now wants a whopping $70,000 per month; the broker indicated that figure was actually closer to $43,000 per month—a huge hike, in either case, and a potential backbreaker.
“Florent is an institution in that neighborhood, and it would be a terrible irony if he ended up being a victim of his own success,” said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, an organization that counts Mr. Morellet among its board members.
“It’s one of the challenges of business—even positive promotion of your community may ultimately backfire against you,” agreed Roy Liebenthal, proprietor of nearby Pop Burger on Ninth Avenue. “I think it’s sad if that’s what ends up happening to Florent because he was the biggest advocate to make the meatpacking district what it is. But that seems to be the normal pattern in New York. The small cool shops and restaurants come in, make it a happening place, then they all get pushed out. The development of the neighborhood makes it impossible to succeed—it kills the goose that laid the golden egg.”
If his proverbial goose is truly cooked, then Mr. Morellet has no regrets. “If we are to close,” he said, “it’s good to close while we’re doing really great, rather than not.” He said Florent’s final month in business would be one big celebration, perhaps complete with commemorative handkerchiefs.
He does not intend to relocate. “I don’t want to open a restaurant elsewhere,” he said. “It would be a mistake to open another Florent because everyone would compare it to this one. Florent became organically from the space itself—you couldn’t re-create it.”
He doesn’t fault the landlord for trying to cash in. “Until we, as New Yorkers, decide to pass laws to have rent control commercially, landlords should be able to charge what they want,” he said.
He’s just hoping the cycle comes full circle. Could a recession reverse his fortunes? “Real estate prices are starting to tumble,” noted Mr. Morellet, whose own block is marked with several vacant storefronts where former ventures failed to survive amid the recent high-priced retail environment.
“It’s funny because that block looks more and more like it did when I opened 23 years ago; it’s very gloomy,” he said, laughing. “Maybe the little doll that I have with all the little needles in it is paying off.”