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LIRR commuters at Penn Station lose fast-food choices as some eateries get evicted

Commuters at Penn Station walk past closed restaurants

Commuters at Penn Station walk past closed restaurants and eateries on Friday, Jan. 16, 2015. Credit: Craig Ruttle

Long Island Rail Road commuters hankering for a bucket of fried chicken or a jumbo pretzel before boarding their train were disappointed to find at least a half-dozen eateries in Penn Station shuttered Friday.

Large blank panels covered the facades of the eateries -- located in a prime spot on the concourse that runs from Seventh to Eighth avenues, near the entrance to the 1, 2 and 3 subway lines and across from the LIRR ticket offices.

The move by Vornado Realty Trust, which owns retail properties inside the station, involves about 10 businesses operated by the Riese Corp.

Vornado notified the businesses sometime last year, but commuters were surprised Friday by the overnight disappearance of a number of fast-food outlets, including KFC, Tim Hortons, Caruso's Pizza, Pizza Hut, Haagen-Dazs and Knot Just Pretzels, as well as full-service restaurant TGI Friday's.

"It looks vacant, black," said LIRR commuter Shani Hollander, 35, of Cedarhurst, as she surveyed the concourse.

Vornado, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment. Riese representatives did not return calls.

The fast-food restaurants' ouster is part of a broader plan by Vornado, Penn's owner Amtrak and other tenants, including the LIRR, to modernize the century-old rail station -- the busiest in the United States. Bringing in more upscale or trendy retail establishments is part of the strategy.

"We're trying to do everything we can to make the place a much nicer place, a much more convenient place. And this is the first phase of that," said MTA board member Mitchell Pally, who supports replacing some of Penn's longtime tenants.

"Closing a few of them is not closing all of them," he said. "We would hope that people would understand and have some patience."

In a statement, Amtrak said it is "always looking for ways to improve the overall passenger experience for all users of Penn Station and we continue to work closely with our partners to advance that goal."

Some commuters said they hoped to see them replaced with trendier eateries, such as Shake Shack at Grand Central Terminal.

"I am all in favor of it," said Lynne Denis, of East Moriches, who has been commuting on the LIRR for 30 years. "I have to be hard-pressed to eat in any of those places. . . . They should take a lesson from Grand Central."

But other commuters said they appreciated the speed and value of some of the shuttered eateries, and questioned whether there's enough of a market for high-end restaurants.

"It's a convenience for us to get a hot dog," said Salvatore Bacchi, 58, a sheet metal worker from Brooklyn who wasn't happy about the changes. "I think it's totally disrespectful for the commuter."

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