Rising costs and changing tastes have left their mark, and the number of customers has fallen by at least 40 percent in the last few years, according to restaurant managers. While five years ago there were more than 30 Indian restaurants on the block (almost all are actually run by Bangladeshis), now there are just 19, and many are shells of their former selves. "People all know the name and expect to find something here," said Ohidur Rahman, who manages Panna, a 30-seat restaurant that has occupied the same spot for 15 years. On a recent weeknight, while one couple ate inside, Mr. Rahman stood quietly on the sidewalk. "Day by day," he said, "I see it going down."
. . "The street was tending to get seedy,'' said Stuart Rubinfeld, a spokesman for Matel Realty, which owns several buildings on the block. "A lot of restaurants were not making it and lowering their standards."
. . The block's smaller cafes have also been hit hard by soaring insurance costs. According to the New York State Restaurant Association, rates for restaurants have risen on average by 50 percent since Sept. 11, 2001. The biggest blow, though, comes from being unable to keep up with a seemingly unstoppable New York phenomenon: gentrification. Little India's commercial rents hovered between $3,000 and $7,000 a month for 5- to 10-year leases as recently as five years ago. Now, the neighborhood can support $10,000-a-month leases, according to real estate and food industry experts.