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Famed Bagel Emporium Closed Down by NYC Marshals

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H&H Bagels, a long-time fixture of New York life, has apparently gone out of business permanently.Bagel lovers everywhere have new reason to grieve – the iconic Manhattan-based H&H Bagels has gone out of business for good. This past week, city marshals locked the business’ West 46th Street branch – which was primarily a plant for manufacturing bagels to be shipped worldwide, along with a small retail store – as part of a legal possession.

This latest development seemed to put an end to H&H, which has experienced sharply declining finances in recent years, resulting in multiple bankruptcies, foreclosures and evictions. The famed bagel emporium’s original retail store on the Upper West Side closed in June under the threat of imminent eviction, while a manufacturing plant in Secaucus, New Jersey, where the majority of the company’s bagels were made, was sold at an auction in October as part of its bankruptcy reorganization. The building that contained the West 46th Street plant was previously sold, with no word yet from the owners on their plans for the building.

H&H Bagels – which was certified kosher by the Star K and was described by Zagat’s Dining Guide as having “just the right consistency to be addictive” – had a reputation as the ultimate New York bagel, and was highlighted on such popular television shows as “Seinfeld” and “Friends.” It was the largest bagel manufacturer in New York City, and one of the largest bagel manufacturers in the world, producing approximately 80,000 bagels a day.

Martin Starkand, a novelist who lives on the Upper East Side, related how for the past six years he has stopped by the midtown location regularly for an “everything” bagel on his way to work.  “It’s kind of sad. They make very good bagels,” he said. “I kind of saw it coming. There used to be a fleet of trucks out here and I haven’t seen that in the last couple of years.”

But even a product as widely praised as H&H Bagels had its detractors. “They’ve been very good marketers,” Maria Balinska, the Boston-based author of “The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread,” asserted in an interview earlier this month. “They created a lot of buzz and hype around their product, which in my mind wasn’t always deserved.”

Helmer Toro, who started the company in 1972, has indicated his belief that H&H is not yet down for the count. Toro has filed court papers intended to forestall an eviction, and a hearing was scheduled to take place this week. The owner said he was in landlord-tenant court trying to get another order to retain ownership of his space until the hearing is held. The trustee for the landlord in federal bankruptcy proceedings, Yann Geron, confirmed that there had been an eviction, despite Toro’s court action.

A notice taped to the door of the chained and padlocked H&H Bagels retail store proclaimed in black capital letters, “Marshal’s Legal Possession,” explaining, “The Landlord has legal possession of the premises pursuant to Warrant of Civil Court.”

In November of 2009, Toro was indicted and arrested for stealing withholding taxes and evading unemployment insurance taxes. The indictment alleged that between July 2003 and April 2009, Toro failed to pay over $369,000 that had been withheld from H & H employees.

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