I was upset to be notified today that one of our highest-ranked Italian & Pizza restaurants had closed its doors as of just a few days ago. This is really a shame and big loss for the Camden waterfront area that is trying so hard to rebuild itself. Thank you to all the kind people at La Riveria Tuscany Bistro who treated us so nicely and consistently made delicious food. They really did have some superb stuff. Hopefully we’ll see them bounce back on their feet and reopen shop somewhere in the future.
CAMDEN — In what could be a sign that the planned future for the redevelopment of Camden’s waterfront may be occurring too slowly to succeed, another dining establishment in The Victor loft apartment building closed Tuesday.
The fourth restaurant to go out of business at The Victor in approximately three years, La Riviera Tuscany Bistro opened to fanfare early last year. City boosters applauded one of the initial full-scale eateries to hang a shingle in the residential building that’s hailed as the first living facility able to attract upper-middle class professionals to Camden.
As one of the few places to eat within a several-block radius, it drew a regular lunch crowd made up largely of Victor tenants, Rutgers University students, police officers, paramedics, and others who worked in the area.
But last week a hand-written sign appeared in La Riviera’s door announcing the bistro was closed for the day.
On Tuesday, that sign was replaced with a commercial-grade “closed” sign.
“It’s a really sad thing for the neighborhood,” said Victor tenant Denise Spaulding.
“They had the freshest bruschetta around. And they did a great job of catering parties.”
While La Riviera owner Sal Pietrangeli did not return calls seeking comment, other merchants there speculated on the the closures.
“There aren’t enough people down here to make any money,” said Joe Papa, owner of Miss G’s convenience store, which shares an entryway with La Riviera. “When the university students leave for the summer, business falls out of bed.”
It’s a complaint heard often among pioneering business owners at The Victor, who worry privately about their own ability to keep their doors open in a city where promise and potential don’t always add up to profit.
“We need more people down here,” said Sam Sarin, who owns The Victor’s Pub, a spacious resto-bar that faces Camden’s entertainment district.
Papa insists the luxury lofts’ owner, Philadelphia developer Carl Dranoff, is partially to blame for the lack of foot traffic.
“There are all of these development projects that haven’t come to fruition,” Papa said, referring to Dranoff’s plans to build or convert three major residential developments in the neighborhood.
The first project — The Radio Lofts, used as a strong incentive for investors like Papa and Sarin — is already several years behind schedule.
Dranoff didn’t return calls to his office seeking comment, but Tom Corcoran, president of the Cooper’s Ferry Development Association, explained that The Radio Lofts’ progress was stalled by state environmental inspectors and should get under way later this month.
He added Dranoff’s proposed 1200-unit mixed use “village” designed for the lots adjacent to The Victor should begin construction in 2010.
Yet, Corcoran too, empathizes with the merchants’ plight.
“We don’t yet have a critical mass of people living close to The Victor to sustain a good dinner crowd, (But) there’s no magic wand.”
Remaining owners are cautiously hopeful that ongoing construction of a neighboring bank and two offices, plus other developments in the works like a Hilton Garden Inn, will provide them with a fresh supply of patrons.
Papa, meanwhile is already feeling the pain.
He estimates his revenues have fallen 30
in the week since La Riviera stopped serving.
“Sal’s was a destination. People bought food from him then came to me to buy soda, to buy cigarettes, to buy chips. Business picked up for a while,” he said.
“Now we’re back to where we were, which is basket case.”
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