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Landlord’s plans for Faneuil Hall trouble some merchants

Fears are called overblown

Pushcarts inside Faneuil Hall marketplace.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Two sharply different perspectives about changes underway at Faneuil Hall Marketplace emerged during a public hearing at City Hall Monday.

From one side, several longstanding retailers and pushcart vendors aired concerns about evictions and their uncertain future in the newly imagined Faneuil Hall.

But the landlord, Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp., said that it intends to evict only a small number of tenants and has otherwise been patient with the current crop of merchants, who collectively owe $750,000 in unpaid rent.

The marketplace is owned by the City of Boston, which leases three of the four buildings — North Market, South Market, and Quincy Market — to Ashkenazy, a New York real estate company.

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Ashkenazy has launched a major renovation of the venerable tourist attraction, proposing to replace the crowded food court in Quincy Market with a more contemporary mix of bars, sit-down restaurants, and stores, as well as add a boutique hotel in a neighboring building.

Ashkenazy has control over leases, but historically the merchants have turned to city officials when they have had problems with the different landlords that have operated the property over the years. The city receives a quarter of the rent paid by tenants.

The vendors said they were eager for the landlord to restore the tired marketplace. But they were alarmed when they did not see a place for their pushcarts or food counters in Ashkenazy’s proposal. Those fears were realized late last month, when Ashkenazy sent out a first round of eviction notices.

Kristen Keefe, Ashkenazy’s general manager of the property, said four businesses received eviction notices because their food stalls will be displaced by plans to build two sets of elevators and staircases near the rotunda of Quincy Market. The purpose is to provide better access to the second floor, where a Uniqlo store will be located, she said. Construction will begin in early 2015.

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Two of those businesses, Boston Chowda Co. and Monkey Bar, were offered new leases in different locations. Another, Bangkok Express, is behind on its rent and will leave the property.

The eviction of the fourth business, Al Mercatino, has many merchants up in arms. The owner, Johnny Bistany, has operated food counters in Quincy Market, first with his father and now his son, for 30 years, and said he has never been late on rent or had any problems with management.

“It felt like they dropped a bomb on me,” Bistany said of the eviction notice he got from a constable last month.

Bistany, 58, has a second business in the food court, West End Strollers. Ashkenazy offered to renew his lease on that location and suggested that he merge the two food businesses there.

His son, Anthony Bistany, testified to city councilors Monday that food vendors need counter space to make money. He said there is no way his family can come close to earning the same amount of money with just one stall.

“Three generations of my family have worked at that market, loved that market,” Bistany said. “I couldn’t believe it,” he said of the eviction notice.

In a statement to the Globe, Ashkenazy said “the businesses that will be discontinued are under-performers in their category on the property.”

Ashkenazy had not previously provided many details about how the changes will affect businesses until councilors pressed Keefe on the fate of other merchants. She said Ashkenazy does not have any immediate plans to displace additional food vendors but will reduce the number of existing pushcarts by three, to 56.

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Taryn Luna can be reached at taryn.luna@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @TarynLuna.