Hildebrandt’s seeking landmark status from Williston Park after rent hike

Hildebrandt’s seeking landmark status from Williston Park after rent hike
The iconic Hildebrandt's is seeking landmark status from the Village of Williston Park after a rent hike. (Photo courtesy of Google Maps)

After announcing more than a year ago that it would remain open “a couple more months,’” the iconic Hildebrandt’s Restaurant in Williston Park has called for community members to push for the eatery to be granted landmark status by the village.

On Feb. 2, the restaurant’s Facebook page posted an update saying that the new landlord is looking to increase monthly rent from $4,500 to $6,700. With nearly 100 years in business, the business has urged all former and current village residents to help the store gain landmark status and preserve the Hildebrandt’s name.

“Even if our current ownership has to release their control, we would like to keep the sign and store open to the public so future generations can enjoy the purity of our store,” the post read.

The post, so far, has been shared more than 300 times and features more than 160 comments from residents sharing memories and expressing their support to help protect the restaurant.

Village of Williston Park Mayor Paul Erhbar said the village received a request to landmark the store last week but the board has not had a chance to decide how to move forward on the process. Ehrbar acknowledged that the social media activity has centered around the village “saving” the business, but he said the village does not control the rent situation involving a landlord and tenant.

“The only thing we can do is look at establishing the building as a landmarked building, but we have no say over the operation of the business at all as long as it meets the codes,” Ehrbar said in a phone interview.

The village, he said, has not yet produced an agenda for the Board of Trustees meeting scheduled to take place on Feb. 22 at 7:30 p.m.

First opened by Henry Hildebrandt in the late 1920s, the restaurant was sold to Alma Steffens in the 1950s. Steffens then sold it to Helen Baum in 1974, and Baum sold it to Alfred and Joanne Strano in 1975.

The Stranos later sold it to their daughter Susan, who owned and operated it with her husband, Bryan Acosta, from 2007 until her death in 2015. Since then, Acosta has kept the store going with his and Susan’s daughter, Hunter.

Films like “The Book of Henry,” starring Naomi Watts, and, most notably, Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” have used the shop’s frozen-in-time interiors to evoke a cozy soda fountain aesthetic.

In 2011, the restaurant was featured on the Food Network program “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” with manager Tom Bauman showing host and chef Guy Fieri a process for making butter pecan ice cream. Former owner Joanne Strano also appeared, making sauce and fried mozzarella with the chef. Fieri praised the location as “timeless.”

The 14-table candy confectionery and ice cream shop said in a post on its Facebook page in July 2020 that it would “no longer be in business within the next few months.” The statement said that the closing was due to the building’s landlords deciding to sell it, and the new owners “creating something different,” and explicitly stated that the closure was “unrelated to COVID-19.”

Another post in October 2020 said that “the new landlords cannot evict us till the end of the year.” A comment on that replying to a customer’s inquiry if the store would be able to move stated that moving would not be an option “because of the large expense.”

Local preservationist Andrew Cronson created an online petition in 2020 that more than 15,000 people have signed so far. Cronson, in a Feb. 3 update, said he has reached out to a variety of historical societies and other organizations to help proceed with landmarking, but has heard virtually nothing from any.

“For those who live in Williston Park or the neighboring areas, now is the time to stand up and be counted if you want to see this incredible restaurant protected for the future,” Cronson said in the update. “It is really up to you to band together and speak up. If there ever was a landmark worth protecting and ensuring [it] survives for the next hundred years, Hildebrandt’s may be it.”

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