By Solange Uwimana
June 19, 2015
This is the kind of neighborhood joint in which the menu is entirely in Spanish (with no pictures), most patrons order in Spanish (the mofongo is popular), and the three women behind the counter greet you in Spanish (“¡Mi amor!”). It doesn't have a website. It has stood for at least 40 years at the corner of Broadway and West 162nd, but over the last several months Angel Santos, who has owned the restaurant with his family since 1997, has been fighting to keep it for another 40.
Punta Cana will most likely close its door in the next few weeks, when a judge is expected to order the restaurant’s eviction...
In March, seven businesses at 3800 Broadway, including Punta Cana, were given eviction notices and told to vacate by the end of April. The businesses' owners were each given the option of paying higher rent — for the restaurant, nearly double the current rate of $5,000 a month. When the Santos family declined because they couldn't afford the new rent of $9,000, they were given another month’s extension and then another, when the Legal Aid Society and Councilmember Mark Levine rallied to the business owners’ cause...
Levine has been highlighting the issue of these disappearing businesses because, he says, there is not as much attention paid to the epidemic.
“All the attention in the press is going to the residential displacement, but what small businesses are facing in commercial rents is in essence even worse because there’s far fewer protections,” he says.
Levine says the city should be increasingly concerned with these community businesses because they are vital to the economy. Levine, a Democrat, represents District 7, which includes West Harlem and a portion of Washington Heights.
“I reject the notion that bringing in higher-paying tenants equals economic development,” he says. “The longtime tenants, they are community-based, many are local entrepreneurs. They're hiring locally, they're producing economic activity in the neighborhood, they're providing a way to earn a living for people in the neighborhood.”