Eastern Market fixture Russell Street Deli closing from landlord dispute

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It is a Detroit Institution serving up soup and sandwiches for decades. 

But the owner of the Russell Street Deli says he can't survive in the current location and plans to close. And now the future of the 30-year-old Eastern Market restaurant is now uncertain.

"I don't know what this will end up being," said Ben Hall. "For us, it's a little bit like a graveyard now."

Hall, who has worked at the Detroit market for 35 years, is the chef and co-owner of Russell Street Deli. According to him, the closure stems from a dispute with the building's landlord, Sanford Nelson of Firm Real Estate. 

Next door, the Mootown Ice Cream Shoppe recently closed their doors as well as longtime staple, Farmers Restaurant.
"Our landlord told us that he was going to take care of all the deferred maintenance over time including the floors," Hall said. "Then he asked us for $50,000 to fix the floor."

Hall says with his current lease, in effect until 2021, he pays $1,700 a month. His landlord offered a new five-year lease of $3,700 a month for five years to cover the cost of the repairs.

"That would be like if you leased a car and they were like, 'Do you want to pay an extra $700 a month?' Why would you do that," Hall said.

He said the floor is more than 120 years old and commercial leases are supposed to cover floors, walls and roof repairs. Hall also says he and his staff fear this location with their new landlord, has become too unstable to stay.

Hall says the deli has about 22 loyal employees - with the "newest" hire having worked there seven and a half years.

"All these people have families, all these people have lives, all these people have bills," Hall said.

Firm Real Estate says Tuesday that the problem is the deli did not address key maintenance matters over several years. In a statement to FOX 2, Firm Real estate says:

"We have never wanted Russell Street Deli to close and, from the very beginning, have sought to resolve the matter in good faith. At every turn, they have refused to work with us to come to a mutually beneficial agreement to address this important safety concern."

But Hall says once the issue was raised, he quickly called the city's building department.

"They said there's no problem and we weren't cited," Hall said. "The health department came out and we weren't cited - there's no problem. And he said, 'I don't care if it's not structural, I just want to do it.'"

Hall, while looking at other potential properties, says, right now the Eastern Market mainstay is set to close on Sept. 28th.

"We hate to see staples in our community that care about Detroiters they serve and employ here, be moved out in this way," said customer Dwan Dandridge.