Miami-Dade County

Neon sign vanished; now Allen’s drugstore and diner going too

adiaz@miamiherald.com

In Miami, landmarks vanish and few take notice, but this one will be mourned: First the iconic Allen’s Drugs sign disappeared from its corner perch of 60 years. Now everything inside is going, too — the pharmacy, the watch repair shop and the vintage lunch counter cherished by several generations of Miamians.

It truly is the end of an era.

Unable to come to an agreement with his landlord on a new lease, Allen’s owner Al Collazo said Friday that he has no choice but to shut down. That means the diner, now operating under the S&S South name, must go, too. Its operators were on a sublease with Collazo, and landlord Jef Matthews won’t let them stay on independently, he said.

“It hurts,” said Collazo, only the drugstore’s second owner after the founding Allen family. “Unfortunately, things happen. It was just time to close down.”

The diner’s operators for the past 10 years, Carlos Cardona and Nancy Cajaraville, could not be reached on Friday. They posted a note on Facebook on Thursday saying that their last day would be July 24, but added that they hope to reopen somewhere else in the neighborhood.

“My biggest heartache comes from watching a piece of history fade away just like many places in our beautiful city,” the S&S South Facebook post reads. “Meeting people that have been coming here way before I was even born, watching them reminisce and listening to their stories on times they spent here, that is the hardest part.”

By Friday afternoon, the diner’s post had more than 280 teary-eyed and frowny-face emojis and more than 125 comments ranging in tone from sorrowful to bitter.

“Blasphemous,” wrote Miguel Marquez. “Devastating,” said Rachel Oberhausen. “The worst day of my entire life,” said Celine Evans.

Added Bob Cruz: “Welcome to Miami...where nobody gives a rats [sic] ass about its history.”

The Allen’s closing also leaves the fate of its famous neon signs, which have defined the busy intersection of Red and Bird roads in South Miami for decades, in limbo. The signs, which spell out “DRUGS” on the corner, and “Allen’s Prescriptions” along both sides of the corner, were removed earlier this year while the building was being painted.

But Allen’s fans and preservationists began fretting as the weeks dragged on, the sign remained absent even after the paint job was done, and Collazo would not explain why as he tried to resolve the impasse with his landlord. Miami-Dade County’s historic preservation board took notice, passing a resolution urging South Miami to consider declaring the sign a historic landmark.

That may now be moot. Collazo on Friday reiterated what he said last month in his first public statement on the issue: The signs, which require extensive repair, belong to Matthews, who has been talking to the Allen family about the possibility of donating them to a preservation group. The letters, meanwhile, are safe and in storage.

The Allens have agreed to allow the letters spelling out the family name on the building if Matthews wants them. But Collazo has said the rest can’t go back on the building after he moves out because an obscure state law bars advertising drugs on a building if no pharmacy is operating on the premises.

The disagreement with Matthews was not directly about money, Collazo said, stressing that the landlord “has been very nice about everything.”

Matthews wanted Collazo to pay for improvements to the building required to make the business accessible to the disabled. But Collazo said he could not afford to, in part because his pharmacy business took a big hit when a new CVS chain store opened up right next door. Collazo sold CVS his prescription roll and kept a compounding pharmacy business going, but it wasn’t the same, he said.

That’s why he decided not to reopen elsewhere, Collazo said.

“We looked. The figures just didn’t make sense,’’ he said. “As soon as CVS came in it was, eh, what can I say? It’s kind of tough when a big box opens up next door.”

But the diner was doing good business, Collazo said. He, Cardona and Cajaraville assumed Matthews might offer a stand-alone lease for the diner, but the landlord is instead apparently allowing the popular Spanish deli next door, Delicias de España, to expand into Allen’s corner space, they said.

The throwback diner fixtures — which are not original — belong to Cardona and Cajaraville, and they can take them if they open a new diner, Collazo said. Collazo will focus on running his second pharmacy in Homestead, though not without more than a twinge of regret over Allen’s, which he has owned since 1984.

“We’ll let it go, and hopefully people will remember the good things we stood for,” Collazo said.

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