NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A chocolate shop that has been making customers in Midtown happy for decades is facing a situation that is far from sweet.
The building’s landlord is raising the rent and suing the store’s owner, but local officials are trying to step in and help, CBS2’s Lisa Rozner reported Wednesday.
More than 150 types of licorice, handmade chocolate and festive candies are what have drawn people into Myzel’s Chocolate on 55th Street near Sixth Avenue for more than 30 years.
“I bought some truffles and some chocolate-covered grams,” patron Karen Fisher said.
“I can get sugar-free licorice for my stepson,” another patron said.
“I made a special trip to come see her,” Harlem resident Bill Penn added.
The owner, Kamila Myzel, took over the shop with her mother in 1990. They emigrated to the U.S. from Poland after receiving political asylum.
The shop is located across from the New York City Center theater, which has been dark since last year, and nearby hotels, which have been used as homeless shelters.
Myzel said she’s one of the few businesses on the block that has remained open.
At first, she worked in an eatery, saving up.
“One of my customer was — I’m never going to forget this — was Mrs. Kennedy-Onasis. So she was the daily customer. She was coming for the chocolate chip cookies. So this is what inspired me as well to have the chocolate cookies over here and, you know, I bake all my cookies,” Myzel said.
“I love people. I’ve heard so many family stories. It’s just me. It’s part of me,” she added. “I’m a working, working, working person and I don’t want to lose what I have.”
But she’s worried she might.
Her last lease with landlord, Solil Management, expired in mid-2020, but through pro-bono law firm Schlam Stone & Dolan LLP she has been trying to negotiate a new one ever since.
Myzel said she cannot afford a rent increase, and, after not hearing back from the company for a while, in August, “They sent me a court paper with eviction notice.”
It said she owes more than $250,000 in rent penalties. That includes being charged double her monthly rent of around $8,000 for each month since the lease ended.
City Councilman Keith Powers, along with state lawmakers, wrote Solil, asking it to “negotiate, in good faith, a fair and equitable lease and stop the lawsuit against Kamila.”
“They shouldn’t be forced out the door because of a large rent increase in the middle of a pandemic. So as people return back to this area, we want them to still patronize this business,” Powers said.
While some New York business is coming back, Myzel said it’s still a struggle. Sales are probably about 50% of what they were before the pandemic.
“Still the offices are not open. The theaters are not open. The hotels are not open. So it’s … we are in still not the same situation. Different life,” Myzel said.
When reached by phone, a representative from Solil Management claimed the company wants to keep its tenants, and just Wednesday was trying to work out a deal with Myzel.
But as of when this story aired on CBS2, Myzel said the company was still trying to increase the rent and keep her on the hook for penalties.
“We need places like this that are unique. They bring us together,” tourist Stephanie Durocher said.
There is a GoFundMe page to help the shop. Please click here.
And here’s a fun fact: While Rozner was visiting Wednesday, the owner told her about a famous guest. She said to tell CBS2’s Lonnie Quinn he needs to come back to fill his licorice order.