Popular Red Hook liquor store could close or move

By Catherine Curan | June 03, 2008 05:30PM

Bourbon drinkers with exacting tastes will have to get their sips outside Red Hook.

Red Hook developer Greg O’Connell has pulled out of a deal to keep the popular and pioneering Red Hook liquor store LeNell’s in the neighborhood, just as LeNell’s lease at 416 Van Brunt Street has run out.

LeNell’s owner said she is now looking for space in Bedford Stuyvesant. Tonya LeNell Smothers is something of a local legend in the quiet waterfront neighborhood, renowned for stocking a wide selection of bourbon and hosting tasting events.

LeNell recently sent out an email, posted by Eater.com, that indicated she would keep the store open until she was evicted. She said she has not been given an eviction notice.

O’Connell had been negotiating with LeNell to expand at a different location in Red Hook. Over the last year, LeNell and O’Connell conducted serious negotiations, complete with architectural drawings and a negotiated lease, LeNell said.

But just as LeNell’s lease was set to expire at the end of May, O’Connell walked into her store to tell her that because of increasing construction costs, the deal was off, LeNell said.

“Greg told me he didn’t want to spend construction money without jacking up the rent we agreed on,” LeNell told The Real Deal. “This has been in discussion for a year — you would think he would have figured that out.”

O’Connell said that with rising construction costs, he would not profit on LeNell’s more elaborate plan to expand the liquor store and add a separate wine bar.

“She definitely is an asset to the neighborhood — that’s why I got involved with her,” O’Connell said.

But he took a pragmatic line when asked about the impact of nixing the deal at this late stage, and said LeNell knew all along that things might not work out.

“A business person always has to have alternative plans,” O’Connell said.

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