Journal-News: "Owners reject new cafe at former Guinans"
Barbara Livingston Nackman
23 September 2008
The Journal News (White Plains, NY)
GWP-Westchester and Putnam
(c) Copyright 2008, The Journal News. All Rights Reserved.
GARRISON - Visions of a new café-bar at the former Guinan's Country Store and Pub were dashed this weekend when a property-owner group said it wants offices and housing instead.
Garrison Station Plaza expects to replace the former Guinan's with something totally different.
Mary Ellen Yannitelli, 42, a lifelong Garrison resident who knew and helped the Guinans run their family enterprise, had submitted plans for a café selling homestyle foods, drinks and convenience items at 7 Garrison Landing overlooking the Hudson River. Her plan was rejected, with the Station Plaza board citing liability concerns as the reason.
Instead, board members are considering proposals from two "well-established local businesses" for offices and a rental apartment, President Delmar Karlen said.
"We took everything seriously and I personally read every single comment we received. The decision was not made lightly. In this tough economy, it was a difficult decision," Karlen said.
Yannitelli said she was "crushed" by it. "It is such a slap in the face to the community," she said, referring to the widespread support she had received. She said she would consider not serving alcohol but was not given a chance to speak directly with the board.
For nearly 50 years, Guinan's had been a popular early morning deli and late-night watering hole. The family patriarch, Jim Guinan, closed the store in January and moved to Florida. Once a month, Irish music was performed in the pub. There are many fond memories of gatherings as well as a Web site and bestselling book dedicated to it.
Board member Margaret O'Sulllivan said she and her colleagues appreciated the Guinan's legacy.
"We all understood the emotional attachment to the old store, what it had been, and that it could never be duplicated," she said.
Hank Osborn, whose great-grandfather had owned the property and who is a current Station Plaza board member, disagreed with his group's decision. "I thought there was something important in having a store like that in town," he said yesterday. "It is a magical space."
More than 1,000 people signed an online petition urging the Station Plaza board to "preserve our community's center and vitality and permit a new store." Garrison resident Gwendolyn Bounds hoped the board would find a "balanced solution" for the space that would also accommodate the public's best interest. A Wall Street Journal columnist, she first came to Garrison when her downtown Manhattan apartment was rocked from the 9/11 attacks. She quickly felt at home and safe at Guinan's and wrote of her experience in "Little Chapel on the River."
"It will be a big disappointment if there is not a café/gathering spot of some sort at Garrison's Landing to serve the commuters, tourists, cadets and residents," she said yesterday of the store that drew Metro-North riders, West Point cadets and homegrown customers.
"Liability issues can be resolved, as they are for plenty of similar establishments operating each day across this country," she added. "I'm certainly biased, but how many towns can say they had something as special as Guinan's serving their constituents? Seems you'd want to go to every length to preserve that legacy in some form."
She and others contend a store should be there, though not an exact replica of Guinan's and not necessarily a liquor-serving bar. Guinan's sold only beer, no wine or hard liquor. "None of us would want the same thing," said Margaret Guinan, a police office in northern Westchester who worked there in the mornings to help her father. "I really think it is something that is needed. It is good for the community - the commuters and the locals," said Guinan, who was raised in the upstairs apartment with her three siblings. "We never had any liability issues - and I grew up there."
The current space is now devoid of its beer signs and old-time food cases. From the front windows one can see directly through to the back windows. Counters and kitchen equipment are gone. "I have been around several times. They have gutted everything," Margaret Guinan said. "It is a sign to me they had made a decision about what they wanted there and didn't want there a long time ago."
Reach Barbara Livingston Nackman at bnackman@LoHud.com or 845-228-2272.