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Longtime owner of Bayside Smoke Shop dies at 69

The Bayside Smoke Shop on Bell Boulevard is under new ownership after the death of its founder.
TimesLedger Newspapers
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Larry Sawlani, 69, owner of the Bayside Smoke Shop, at 41-05 Bell Blvd., died Saturday after a five-year battle with heart disease. A well-respected and recognized face in the community for more than 33 years, Sawlani was remembered fondly by those around him.

“He knew everybody in the neighborho­od,” his son, Raj Sawlani, said. “Some of these customers have known me since I was born.”

According to Raj Sawlani, 29, his father was born in India and came to America as a child. After college, he moved around from Florida to Chicago, before settling down in New York. He went on to work as the general manager of Woolworth’s in Time Square, before he finally decided to open his own retail storefront in Bayside in 1982.

Carlo Ferrante, a 45-year Bayside resident and longtime customer, said he has warm memories of his discussions with the elder Sawlani about stocks and equities.

“I would always joke that he should have been a broker,” Ferrante said. “He was a great guy... It’s so sad to hear that he passed.”

Sherry Teran, co-president of the American Vision Eye Care Center next door, said she was surprised to hear about Sawlani’s death.

“I didn’t know him socially, but they have been our business neighbors for almost 32 years,” Teran said. “He was a very kind, nice man.”

Raj, 29, had worked with his father every day for the past five years and would manage the storefront whenever he could not. But, over the last 10 months, while his father had been in and out of the hospital due to various heart complications, an outpouring of residents had been stopping by to check up on him.

“We have 15 to 20 customers come in each day asking the guys who are there now about [my] dad,” Raj Sawlani said. “I wanted people to know what happened. They think he just left.”

On Saturday morning, at about 6:47 a.m., Larry Sawlani died at New York Presbyterian Hospital of Queens, from pnemonia brought on by his worsening heart condition. Even before his father was gone, the Sawlanis had decided to turn the business over to a group of experienced individuals who offered to help the father before he died.

“We already handed the business over to somebody else,” the son said. “I can’t go back to that store... I’m too emotionally attached.”

Raj Sawlani said that while he does not have the strength to continue running the business without his father, the new owners will carry on the tradition and keep the business going.

Larry Sawlani’s funeral was held Saturday in Richmond Hill and he was cremated the same day on Long Island. Any one who would like to make a donation in his memory should consider St. Judes Children’s Research Hospital at www.stjude.org.

Updated 12:32 am, July 10, 2018
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Reader feedback

used own product from queens says:
Sounds like he used his own products. Slow suicide.
Feb. 16, 2016, 11:42 am
Bayside Neighbor from Bayside, NY says:
Larry was a wonderful man. This is a major loss for Bayside. We'll miss him greatly.
Feb. 16, 2016, 2:29 pm
Thomas from whitestone says:
Another 80's era business gone from bell. I remember when Larry first bought the place and we would listen to music and play pinball machines all afternoon. Its sad that we have to say goodbye. Rest in peace buddy. You were the last of the Mohicans
Feb. 16, 2016, 4:46 pm
Billy from Queens says:
I was almost floored when I found out the news. I stop into Larry's every morning before getting on the train. I was wondering why I never saw him around. Great guy, who was hardworking and helpful. All the best to his family.
Feb. 17, 2016, 11 am

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