Longtime customers of Cafe Riviera, an Italian restaurant and pizzeria in the Neshaminy Mall, took to the Internet to speak out about its impending closure.
After 36 years in the mall, the business is expected to close its doors, at least in its current location, for good on Feb. 14. Customers made an online petition and garnered over 10,000 signatures hoping that the decision will be reconsidered.
“They don’t want a small restaurant in what is a primary strip,” owner Louise Leone said. “This is where they want to see a national retailer.”
Leone said that the restaurant’s lease was due at the end of December, but she and her husband, Ernesto, were notified in September that another retailer would be taking the place of Cafe Riviera, located between Boscov’s and the food court. She mentioned that Modell’s Sporting Goods would be opening a larger location there, but that could not be confirmed. The mall’s management did not return requests for comment by the time the Midweek Wire went to press.
In September, Cafe Riviera was offered a different, but favorable space to move in the mall, according to Leone, but when they reentered negotiations in January, that option was no longer on the table.
“We were excited and negotiating for that,” Leone said. “But we sort of came to an impasse.”
They were instead allegedly offered a location by the movie theater. There, Leone believes, business would suffer due to traffic congestion in the parking lot and lack of foot traffic in the mall.
Renting in a mall can be more expensive than an outdoor shopping center, and what you pay for, Leon said, is the foot traffic. That, too, has decreased through the years, which is why part of the negotiations included rent considerations for Cafe Riviera.
The situation is disappointing for the Leones, their customers and staff, some of whom have been working there for over 25 years.
Apart from the online petition and scores of Facebook comments, people have been coming into the restaurant in person and expressing their appreciation or sharing stories about their families and friends eating there through the years.
“After you hear the reaction of the people, you can’t just walk away,” Leone said. “You feel like you’re letting them down.”
Still, all hope is not lost for Cafe Riviera devotees. Leone is still in conversation with the leasing team. The best-case scenario, she said, is to stay in the mall in the location they were originally offered, by the food court.
If those pan out, the restaurant could reopen as soon as August. If they do not, Leone may be taking her business elsewhere, which means regrouping and restarting the 30-plus-year business from square one.
“The hope is to stay local,” she said. “It has to be the right location and it has to be financially feasible.”
To view the online petition to save Cafe Riviera, visit www.change.org/p/neshaminy-mall-save-cafe-rivera.