Paul Feiner, Greenburgh Town Supervisor, talks about ways to help with the storefront vacancies at the four corners in Hartsdale.
Rockland/Westchester Journal News
At Hartsdale’s “Four Corners” intersection, long a hub of small businesses in the Town of Greenburgh, you now see empty storefronts at each of the four corners.
Where Central Park Avenue cuts through West and East Hartsdale avenues, there’s at least one vacancy on each corner. A pop-up Halloween store is the only sign of business life on the northwest corner of the intersection.
“It’s very upsetting and aggravating,” Greenburgh Supervisor Paul Feiner said.
Greenburgh officials were already worried about the growing numbers of “For Lease” or “For Rent” signs before COVID-19. Now Feiner fears they may grow as uncertainty and restrictions from the pandemic remain.
There are storefront vacancies on each block of the four corners in Hartsdale, like this former jewelry store on East Hartsdale Avenue, Sept. 3, 2020. (Photo: Mark Vergari/The Journal News)
“I think it was a problem, but now with COVID it’s becoming more of a crisis for every downtown area, probably in the country,” Feiner said.
To prevent vacancies from piling up, Greenburgh is exploring changing its zoning, hiring an economic development coordinator, and even enlisting residents from Generation Z to help veteran business owners find new ways to brand their shops and restaurants.
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Prior to the pandemic, Planning Commissioner Garrett Duquesne said the town was dealing with “a fair amount” of vacancies. Just about every shopping center has at least one barren property, he said.
“It’s a very significant issue with retail space and office space and maybe temporary (space), but even some restaurants have closed as well,” said Duquesne, who has been with the town since 2014.
Landlords seek zoning changes
Landlords are acutely aware of the troubled business landscape.
Brixmor operates over 400 shopping centers across the country, including the Dalewood I, II, III Shopping Center in Greenburgh, which has three small shop and two junior anchor spaces available. A Brixmor spokesperson said the company doesn’t anticipate any further losses, and to fill the open spots plans to offer short-term and pop-up opportunities
“These vacancies offer opportunities for both established and entrepreneur businesses to move to stable, accessible, community-centered assets,” a spokesperson said in an email.
Roger Nitkin, principal and founder of Granite Associates, said of the seven retail properties he leases in Greenburgh, one has been empty for several months. Nitkin has said that he never dealt with an extended vacancy until now.
Feiner said Greenburgh depends on a vibrant business community for its tax base. To keep that intact and allow it to flourish, the town needs to be “proactive,” he said.
One step is bringing on an economic development coordinator, as New Rochelle and White Plains have done, Feiner said.
The coordinator would help businesses obtain grants, relief money and loans from governmental agencies, non-profits and financial institutions. The coordinator would also help market new and existing businesses and work with landlords to fill their vacancies.
Interviews could begin by next month.
The new hire could help develop zoning that would be more conducive to a thriving business district, Feiner said. He said the town would consider rezoning the Four Corners and potentially other parts of the town to mixed-use to accommodate residential and commercial properties.
A zoning change at Four Corner has been under review for about a year, Feiner said. Parking and flooding are also problems that need to be addressed in that neighborhood, he said.
Duquesne added the town is exploring how to make it easier for a variety of businesses to open because it’s “clear there has to be changes.”
Nitkin said he appreciates the town’s responsiveness to business concerns. Antiquated zoning laws could be modernized, he said. Rather than granting variances on a property-by-property basis, zoning changes to business districts would make approvals easier, he said.
“Sometime in the distant past there was a feeling that we were at odds or getting resistance from the town, but I think the town is taking a very proactive approach,” Nitkin said.
The Brixmor spokesperson said if the town was receptive to parking variances and additional food uses, it would help landlords fill vacancies.
Feiner stressed that creativity and innovation are critical when it comes to luring businesses. He said the town can’t rely on retail, which has struggled because of online shopping, and restaurants, teetering in the face of the coronavirus.
The addition of an incoming Tesla dealership, Shoprite Supermarket and an Amazon Last Mile facility are welcome, Feiner said. A FedEx distribution center and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals is also expanding in town. Feiner said he’s pushing for drive-in movies or concerts to take place in the mostly empty parking lots of office buildings at night.
“We have to reinvent the way businesses are going to be functioning,” he said. “We have to reinvent our business district.”
Feiner hopes that student interns who are in tune with social media could partner with shops to buff up their online presence, Feiner said. Setting up Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages for mom and pop shops would modernize their business, he said.
Businesses try to adapt
Some existing businesses have found ways to survive and even thrive during the pandemic. But the path remains precarious for some, particularly restaurants.
Luke Tancredi, the 27-year-old owner of Crank Cycling on the northeast side of Four Corners, opened his bicycle shop March 1. The space had been empty for at least a few years and when COVID-19 began he wondered how long his business might last.
But bike shops were deemed essential and Tancredi, a Pleasantville resident, saw his store take off. Customers were looking for other ways to get around besides public transit. One customer traveled 10 hours to purchase a $600 bike, he said.
“Bikes were flying out the door,” Tancredi said. “… For a new business we’re getting to see the community a lot faster.”
Geraldine’s Couture, on the southwest side of Four Corners, typically sells wedding dresses and high end gowns. With formal occasions halted due to COVID-19 restrictions, the business pivoted to selling homemade face masks to stay afloat.
Owner Geraldina Shabani said she used extra fabric to sew herself and her employees masks before she discovered patrons would buy the sought-after items.
“Thank God we survived,” Shabani said. “I’m glad I did that even if it wasn’t a profit. But I’m happy that I kept my business open.”
Mariachi Loco II, located on Central Park Avenue, is fortunate it got a swell of support from local customers ordering takeout or delivery when restaurants were forced to close in March, owner Jannette Arellano said. The last six months have been challenging, Arellano said, with staff adjusting on a daily basis.
“Definitely with fall and winter coming we are a little worried because we don’t know what’s going to happen with COVID and everything,” she said. “But we’re keeping our hopes up that everything stays safe as it has been this summer.”
David Propper covers New Rochelle and the shore towns. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter: dg_props. Our local coverage is only possible with support from our readers. Sign up for a digital subscription here.
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