OAKLAND -- After 33 years in business, the Montclair Malt Shop closed quietly on Tuesday without warning or fanfare.
Owner Nemat Modarresi attributed his decision to slow sales. Modarresi said that he has been without a lease on the space for more than a year, which inhibits his ability to sell the business. He said he is paying more than market rate for the diminutive shop that straddles Mountain Boulevard and Antioch Court.
Modarresi said that his efforts to try and negotiate with the landlord have been unproductive, causing him to fall behind on his rent. However, landlord Fai Bidgoli said, "You couldn't find a nicer landlord than me. I can assure you that I have tried to work with them from the beginning."
Although Bidgoli refused to give specific information about the rent due to confidentiality issues, she said that despite rent reductions, Modarresi was unable to pay rent.
"I want them to stay, but obviously I want to get paid," Bidgoli said.
"I can't survive the winter selling ice cream," said Modarresi, who is sandwiched between Starbucks and Peet's Coffee. The opening of Yogofina a few years ago in Montclair Village also took business away from the Montclair Malt Shop, Modarresi said.
"You have to support your small businesses if you want them to be there," he said. "People even take their kids to Peet's for hot chocolate. They need to spread their money around. If they bought hot chocolate or coffee from me once in a while, I would be able to pay the rent."
David Sarber, who closed Sarber's Cameras last month after a half-century in business, understands Modarresi's frustration all too well.
"I was frustrated for the last couple of years about the support I got in my retail effort," Sarber said. "I felt like Don Quixote. Maybe retail in the (Montclair) Village is changing, and we don't see it. Maybe we shouldn't fight it."
Modarresi said he and his wife have owned the shop for six years. Modarresi did find an alternative location at the former Montclair Pharmacy in the Village. The pharmacy's owner, Bill Sullivan, agreed to rent Modarresi the space for a price Modarresi can afford. However, the proposed new site would have to be approved by the city Planning Commission, which would take time and money.
Modarresi said he doesn't have the money to pay for the process and that Sullivan cannot wait three months for the process to be completed.
"If the city expedites the process and waives the fees, I'm ready to go," he said.
Modarresi said he contacted District 4 Councilmember Libby Schaaf to see if she could help.
"The Montclair Malt Shop is the kind of business we want to preserve in the Village, and I will do what I can to help, within the confines of the system," Schaaf said.
"I'd love to see them stay," said Daniel Swafford, executive director of the Montclair Village Association. "It would be good continuity. It's a good family business. I went there in high school, and I knew people that worked there."
A note written by a young customer is taped to the door. It reads, "Dear Montclair Malt Shop, I had a lot of fun memories at your store. I will always keep the memories. I will miss getting ice cream and persian soup. I really love your store. Good luck. Love, Caroline."