Whenever Maria Lugo had a craving, she knew she could turn to the Golden Arches.
Lugo, a certified nursing assistant, said her hectic days take her to all five boroughs, attending patients in their homes. She works up an appetite on her travels, and could always depend on the McDonald’s at 5201 Broadway for a quick and satisfying bite.
Lugo will have to find somewhere else to go, however. This slice of burger bliss in the heart of Marble Hill closed its doors on Monday. Permanently.
“You guys are leaving — no!” said Lugo, who’d been a faithful customer at this particular McDonald’s since moving to the neighborhood 10 years ago. “They’re awesome.”
Lugo was on the verge of tears as she hugged a manager.
“I don’t want them to leave,” she said. “They already know me. It’s like a family here.”
Now she’ll have to go to another McDonald’s almost a mile further north on Broadway, between West 236th and 237th streets, when hunger swoops in.
With little notice, there’s now one less place to fill up on McNuggets, fries, patties and shakes in this part of the Bronx, and loyal locals like Lugo suspect rising rent might be partly to blame.
On Monday morning, fewer than 10 customers sat in booths hunched over steaming paper cups of coffee, several of them speaking in hushed tones on their cell phones as “Somebody’s Watching Me” and, later, “Fame” played on the speakers.
This particular Big Mac outpost has been a mainstay on this sometimes bustling, sometimes bleak strip of Broadway in Marble Hill for more than 15 years, according to several customers, many who came in to say their goodbyes to employees.
High rent isn’t the only likely culprit, said Orlando Kross, owner of the nearby Flowers by Zenda at 5217 Broadway, and leader of the Marble Hill Merchants Association. Quality-of-life issues — like rambunctious school kids fighting out front, as well as a noticeable drug presence in the area — might also have contributed to the restaurant’s reported struggle to stay afloat.
Adam Falzon, who’d stopped in for breakfast after a long night, said he makes this McDonald’s a regular part of his morning routine, where he favors bacon, egg and cheese on a flaky biscuit, washed down with coffee.
“It’s sad to see it go,” added Aida Vasquez, Falzon’s wife. Although she doesn’t count herself a regular, “When you have kids, it’s just an easy thing to stop by and grab something. And the location’s really good because the malls are right there, and there’s not a lot of places to eat down there.”
Falzon didn’t even realize the restaurant was closing until he saw the sign on the door that morning. And Vasquez, who lived in the neighborhood when she was younger, said it’s always been hard to keep good businesses in the area.
“We’ve never been able to see stores that really last in this strip right here,” she said.
“Minus the pizzeria — that’s the only place that has stood the test of time, because the rent increases are so astronomical, they can’t make money. So they end up leaving.”
Still, she said, the fact that McDonald’s is closing is “shocking.”
“Mom-and-pop shops, you expect it,” she said. “But McDonald’s can’t survive? That’s just indicative of what it’s like.”
The 5201 Broadway McDonald’s first opened in September 2002, said Amanda Pisano, New York metro region brand reputation manager for McDonald’s USA. Why it was closing, Pisano wouldn’t say, citing “a general rule” the company doesn’t comment on reasons behind restaurant closures.
The franchise was owned by Chris Trefz, the son of the late Ernest Trefz, who opened his first McDonald’s in Waterbury, Connecticut, in 1964.
The jobs at this location won’t be lost, however. Employees were offered jobs at other restaurants, Trefz said.
But that won’t fill the hole left by the 5201 Broadway closing, and all Lugo could do was make the best of it.
“I’ll see you around, I know it,” Lugo said to the manager, before turning around and walking out the door. For the last time.