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Empire Szechuan Is Closing After 30 Years in the West Village

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Owner Oscar King blames a new, higher rent and slowdown in walk-in business.

Robert Sietsema

Neighborhood mainstay Empire Szechuan Village is closing its doors after 30 years in the West Village due to a 500 percent rent hike — but the closing is largely harmonious, owner Oscar King said. King, 63, opened the Chinese restaurant in the landmarked building at the corner of Perry Street and Seventh Avenue South in 1985 and signed a long-term lease, an agreement that meant he was paying just $5,000-per-month for the property.When the longtime landlord asked for $25,000-per-month to renew the lease, King agreed that the price was fair but was still too high for the restaurant, he said.

The property values are really high in this area. No complaints. I'm ready to retire."

Business hasn't been doing as well in the last couple years, he said. Construction next door has had a huge impact on walk-in business. Plus, he's ready to finish his run in the restaurant industry. "I understand," King said. "The property values are really high in this area. No complaints. I'm ready to retire."

West Village has some of the highest commercial rents in downtown Manhattan. In the spring, average yearly asking rent was $481-per-square-foot, according to a report by the Real Estate Board of New YorkIn theory, that means Empire Szechuan Village's more than 1,800-square-foot property could rent for nearly $900,000 per-year or $75,000 per-month. The restaurant joins a plethora of other locally owned businesses in the area, like Gray's Papaya and Cafe Angelique, that have shuttered due to rising costs. High commercial rent in the neighborhood has even kept some storefronts perpetually empty.

Empire had an active delivery service, and despite its name, it mostly served traditional Chinese take-out food instead of spicy Szechuan cuisine. The restaurant's last day of service will be Saturday, King said.

"It’s okay," King said. "[I've] been here 30 years. It’s time for some new guy to come in."

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