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A Brooklyn Deli Was So Outraged By A Crazy Rent Hike It "Gentrified" Its Prices

The latest battle over skyrocketing urban rent has produced "artisan roach bombs," 5 Hour "Slow Roasted" Energy drinks, and "grass feed" tuna.

Posted on June 13, 2015, at 10:12 p.m. ET

A Brooklyn bodega has rolled out a series of "artisanal prices" for everyday products in response to a steep rent hike that will likely force it to relocate.

Jesse's Deli, in Brooklyn's Boerum Hill neighborhood, has been paying $4,000 a month in rent for the last five years, owner Mohamad Itayim told BuzzFeed News Saturday. This year, however, the store's landlord decided the raise the rent to $10,000 a month.

"That's impossible to pay," Itayim said.

In response, the store put up posters displaying what Itayim called "fancy names, yuppie names" that include things like a "curated" extension cord set and "grass fed" tuna.

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The prices for the ordinary-but-now-artisanal items have been raised to match the proposed rent hike.

The campaign drummed up considerable support. Jesse's has been featured in local media and customers have been posting images to Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #jessespricedout.

"The response has been great," Itayim said. "We've been getting a lot of support and a lot of reaction to these posters."

Despite the posters, Itayim said customers still pay regular prices when they go to check out.

Jesse's has been in the neighborhood since 1983, but now has to leave its current location by July 31.

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When asked if there was an chance of negotiating a new lease to keep the store in the same spot, Itayim — who is the son of the store's eponymous founder — wasn't optimistic.

"I don't think there's any hope for that," he said.

Jesse's moved into its current location in 1989.

The building that houses Jesse's is owned by Karina Bilger, who Itayim said has not responded to petitions and community efforts to save the store.

However, Bilger told DNAinfo it was the deli's fault for not renewing its lease. She said she offered Jesse's "a lease renewal on very favorable terms over two years ago," but the family refused. Bilger also said the renewal offer was "well under market rent."

Bilger did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News' request for comment Saturday.

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After Jesse's leaves, Bilger plans to put the property back on the market, DNAinfo reported.

"I believe I have been instrumental in a little way in the betterment of our neighborhood," she said in an email to DNAinfo. "In the selection of a new tenant, I will be sensitive to the needs of our wonderful community."

The struggles and eviction of Jesse's Deli come as many large U.S. cities grapple with soaring rents and gentrification.

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Rent has been a perennial concern in New York City, and parts of Brooklyn have become almost a kind of shorthand in debates over gentrification.

Just last month, The New Yorker ran a story about an abundance of shuttered storefronts in Manhattan's West Village. And in a bizarre twist, a New York Times story also from last month explored how Brooklyn's ever-higher prices are driving some people back to Manhattan.

New York City's struggles with affordability prompted Mayor Bill de Blasio last year to lay out a plan to build more housing in hopes that an increase in supply would have a moderating effect on rents.

But the problem is more widespread.

In Los Angeles — which has the most expensive housing in the U.S. when factoring in average income — affordability has been the primary driver in the now-successful efforts to raise the minimum wage. And in San Francisco, rising rents are a major impetus behind efforts to reign in Airbnb.

As for Jesse's Deli, Itayim said he hopes to find another location in the same neighborhood.

Itayim said rents in the entire neighborhood have gone up in recent years, but he's hopeful that he can find a location that will still keep him in business.

"The area is getting to be a little more pricy," he added, "but not as much as she's asking."

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