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CHURNING ITALIAN ON BROAD AND WEST SIDE

racioppisAfter 15 years in Red Bank, Racioppi’s Kitchen locked its doors Sunday. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

The last two years were tough for Joe Racioppi (no relation to this reporter). The last six to eight months in particular, he said, became impossible to weather. rcsm2_0105081

“It got to the point where I just couldn’t make the payments at home,” said Racioppi, who lives in the Navesink section of Middletown. “So it was at the point where I either found another job or got kicked out of my house.”

He chose the former, and on Sunday, months before the 16th anniversary of Racioppi’s Kitchen, Racioppi turned off the lights and locked the doors of his Italian deli and restaurant for the last time.

“It sucks,” he said. “It’s kind of depressing, but on the other hand, it’s kind of relieving.”

Racioppi’s is just one of a handful of businesses making an exit from Red Bank in recent weeks.

sicilia-052411Sicilia plans to expand into the storefront at the corner of Broad Street and Peters Place, which has an ample area for outdoor dining. (Click to enlarge)

Up Bridge Avenue from Racioppi’s, Tommy’s Café ended a brief run at the Galleria. Owner Tommy Bonfiglio, who also owns the thriving Tommy’s Coal Fired Pizzain the Galleria, could not be reached for comment.

Last Sunday, Bella Mystique closed its Broad Street location.

The women’s casualwear shop hosted a couple of sexy outdoor fashion shows downtown – the first we know of in the borough’s history. But like Racioppi’s, the store was unable to make it out of a depressed economy and withering customer base, said owner Rosa Davis. And after four years at 43a Broad, Davis said she was no longer able to cover the rent.

“I’m so depressed,” she said. “It’s been over four years. This is my baby.”

Davis isn’t vanishing from the retail market completely, though. Bella Mystique will continue through the shop’s website, she said.

“I love this town, so I’m going to keep doing that and let people know I’m still here,” Davis said. “Hopefully the town doesn’t forget me.”

On the brighter side of retailing in town, one space is getting filled and another is expanding.

At 65 Broad Street, owners of Nevada Exchange are once again shifting the focus.

First it was an antique shop, then had a brief life as a specialty guitar retailer. Now Colts Neck-based company Due Process Stable, the parent company of Nevada Exchange, is filling the corner location with rugs.

Aaron Ward, a manager at the store, which is a subsidiary of the Nevada Exchange headquarters in Shrewsbury, said this go-round is much like past iterations of the space: to serve as an outlet for a specific product while, hopefully, drawing people to the Shrewsbury location.

The company, which has a warehouse in Edison, has accumulated a stock of imported rugs that are in the process of getting hung up at the Red Bank store.

“We had an excess of about four to five million one-of-a-kind rugs that were just sitting in our warehouse,” Ward said.

He anticipates the shop to be open in about a week.

• Less than a year after opening his Broad Street eatery, Vincenzo Sorriso is working on expanding Sicilia Café.

Taking up space at the former boutique Femme D’Affaires clothing store, at the corner of Peters Place, Sorriso is doubling down on Red Bank, not just because he’s coveted that spot, or because he might be a little crazy, he admits, but because he’s got faith.

So with that, he’s remodeling the space as a dining area for his Sicilian-centric eatery, and will take advantage of an ample patio for outside dining in the summer, in the hope it will draw more attention to his end of the downtown — which, he’s quick to point out, is very much part of the downtown.

“I believe in it. It’s not going to be easy,” said Sorriso, who’s family also operates Saladworks next door and at the Monmouth Mall in Eatontown. “This end of Red Bank has always been shadowed by the other end, so hopefully this will lift that a little, and people will realize (downtown) Red Bank doesn’t end at Monmouth Street.”

Speaking of Monmouth Street, the Cupcake Magician will hold its grand opening from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, featuring mini cupcakes, kids’ giveaways, live music, a magic show and facepainting.

Remember: Nothing makes a Red Bank friend happier than to hear "I saw you on Red Bank Green!"
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