Palace Diner Set To Close Friday
By ROSS BARKAN
Yet another casualty of rapidly shifting demographics, the Palace Diner will close for good on Dec. 30, marking the end of an era for a neighborhood that has watched diner after diner disappear.
|The Palace Diner on Main Street in Flushing is closing Friday.
The Flushing diner on Main Street, off the Long Island Expressway, drew residents and tourists alike in its heyday, serving as a meeting place for numerous local civic groups and politicians. At its peak, hungry patrons could have to wait hours for a table. Civic leaders and longtime diner-goers agree that those days are long past, and the diner's closing is sad, but not surprising. Taking its place, according to the diner's owner, will be an "upscale" Chinese restaurant.
"The Marchal, the Tower Diner, the Saravan, and now the Palace Diner," said Harvey H. Rubin, ticking off the names of other shuttered area diners. "As the community changes, it gets harder to maintain a general type of restaurant like a diner."
Over a chocolate chip muffin at the Palace's no-longer-crowded counter, Rubin, a retired math teacher and 53-year resident of Flushing, reminisced about the diner's glory days and how a changing populace has made the old diner no longer profitable. Over the past few decades, Flushing's Asian population has surged, and now area restaurants and businesses reflect the tastes of immigrant groups and their children. Dim sum and curry noodles are not likely to appear on too many diner menus.
Just below 48 percent of Queens is foreign born, with the highest immigrant population growth occurring in Northern Queens, according to 2010 Census data. Myra Baird Herce, former president of the Flushing Chamber of Commerce, said she was devastated when she found out the diner, opened in 1976, was closing.
"We have no place to go for American brunch and American sandwiches," Herce said. "Population trends have been moving very sharply the past 15 years toward Chinese. I understand why the owner had to sell."
George Mantzikos, the diner's owner, declined to comment on the sale, but said with a solemn smile, "Life goes on."
Herce and Rubin both said the diner served as a de facto community center. With its spacious private rooms, civic groups like the Queensborough Hill Civic Association and politicians like U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside) and former Assemblywoman Nettie Mayersohn would come to hammer out important neighborhood decisions, or just have a bite to eat among old friends. Baird said that aging residents who cannot travel very far are losing the dining options they had known for so long.
"We are an evolving country, new people come in all the time," Herce said. "Let's have a variety of places, but it's not working out that way. It's becoming very one-sided-Americans that have been in Flushing are slowly drifting away to the clouds. It's a change, and there's no residual comfort for the original population."
James McClelland, Councilman Peter Koo's (R-Flushing) spokesman, said that the councilman frequented the diner and regrets that it is closing. While local businesses, if they are to survive, must be sure to appeal to their chief demographic, McClelland said, a business that is inclusive to people of all backgrounds works best.
"Councilman Koo hopes any business, Chinese or other, will be inclusive," McClelland said. "The more inclusive you are, the better your business model. Chinese businesses should not only cater to Chinese customers, and vice versa."
Rubin, his muffin finished, looked back at all the change that had occurred in his neighborhood during the half century he has lived there. In the 1950s, Flushing still had farmland, and residents living there could have been old enough to remember when the Town of Flushing voted against consolidating with New York City in 1898. Times change, and now the Palace Diner will disappear into Queens' multitudinous past.
"I remember when this was a supermarket," Rubin said. "And now, it'll change again."
Reach Reporter Ross Barkan at email@example.com or (718) 357-7400, Ext. 127.