Main Street is Dying.

14 Dec

Sure, that’s a dramatic statement. But one that’s not so untrue. In a recent post I talked about supporting small businesses and doing our part to stimulate the local economy. Since then, news has broken that one of my favorite restaurants in my town of Mount Kisco, The Flying Pig on Lexington, is shuttering due to unreasonable rent increases. I’ve also head the rumors that Annie Sez, Ann Taylor and Gap are on their way out of town. If these big box retailers can’t afford to be here, what hope is there for the little people?

I’m scared for my community. Driving through town I see not the festive holiday windows of thriving businesses, but the empty ones of those that have been forced to close up shop. I didn’t move to Mount Kisco for that kind of community.

I guess what I’m driving at is, I think it’s time for change around here. I’ve never actually been a political person. I’ve attended few rallies in my life. I have signed my name in support of many causes, and donated money too, but none that I felt truly “passionate” about. This, however, I feel passionate about.

Last night, over drinks with my favorite gal pal Maria Colaco, we proposed that it might be time to Occupy Main Street. While the Occupy protesters around the country are catching a lot of flack for not having a strong “message,” or demand, we’d like to suggest we first get the conversation started online and hear what others have to say about the matter. Let’s see if collectively, we can be the change we want to see in our town, in our community, and in our country.

Please join the conversation here in the comments section, and on Twitter using the hashtag #westchat. If you’re unfamiliar with hashtags, they are a way to organize a conversation on Twitter in a separate stream, making it easy to join or follow at any time. All you have to do is include the hashtag #westchat at the end of your tweets about this topic and they will be shared within our local Twitter community.

Thanks, and we look forward to hearing your concerns and ideas!

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25 Responses to “Main Street is Dying.”

  1. yishun December 14, 2011 at 11:37 am #

    The big boxes pushed out local businesses, and then they left. That’s really heartbreaking. Shop local. It’s worth it for so many reasons: You know the proprietor knows his or her hometown, so he or she is acquiring goods that really speak to you. You know the money’s going someplace good. And finally, you know the proprietor. Period.

    • ogradysarah December 14, 2011 at 2:56 pm #

      Heartbreaking indeed. I think you raise a good point about community, and getting to know one another. There’s such value in that!

  2. Rhonda Hurwitz December 14, 2011 at 11:45 am #

    You have highlighted an important issue. Occupy Main Street … yes, please, and before it’s too late.

    • ogradysarah December 14, 2011 at 2:55 pm #

      Thanks for joining the conversation Rhonda! Please join us on Twitter too, at #westchat. Let’s come up with some ways to be the change!

  3. Gina Bruce December 14, 2011 at 12:22 pm #

    And occupy Main Street online too – by sharing your finds and comments on Twitter and Facebook. Let your friends and followers know what’s up with local businesses. Use the power of the Web to spread the word.

    • ogradysarah December 14, 2011 at 2:44 pm #

      Gina, that’s a great idea. We need to start thinking creatively about using the power and influence of social media to share “local” recommendations for shops, restaurants, and merchants we support and love. The power of word-of-mouth is HUGE. It’s definitely a big component of this! Thanks for sharing!

  4. sheila December 14, 2011 at 12:22 pm #

    It’s very frustrating. There is a specific landlord in Mt Kisco with a bad reputation for raising rent unreasonably, even in good economic times. The town struggled to work with him when Shopper’s Park was rebuilt (before your time here). The question is, what can we specifically do to help Main Street other than simply patronize their businesses? I do that in spades but it won’t save them from unreasonable rents. Thoughts?

    • ogradysarah December 14, 2011 at 2:48 pm #

      Sheila, I think that the community needs to find a way to band together and approach the town with suggestions/options/concerns. I know that the town can’t “cap” rents, per se, but there are other creative ways that they CAN take a stand and show these landlords that enough is enough. They are shuttering our community and our Main St is becoming a ghost town, and we’re not going to stand for it! I think we just need to start thinking creatively about what influence we each have and how we can be part of the change. Not sure what that answer is yet, but hoping it will be discovered through conversation. And maybe it starts with creating a true concerned resident presence at the next Village Hall meeting, or Chamber of Commerce meeting!

  5. davidpDavid December 14, 2011 at 1:17 pm #

    In Pound Ridge we have a landlord who would rather leave a property empty and falling apart than fix it up and rent it out.

    We need politicians who will stand up to these guys but sadly that doesn’t seem to be in the cards.

    I say #Occupy Main Street!

  6. marta December 14, 2011 at 1:56 pm #

    omg! i just saw this on maria’s fb and realized it was your blog!! i love love love it!!! something has to be done!!! you write beautifully~!!!

    • ogradysarah December 14, 2011 at 2:49 pm #

      Thank you Marta! I’m glad we spoke this morning about this, and definitely want to come up with some sort of letter we can start passing out!

  7. Joanne December 14, 2011 at 2:41 pm #

    Greedy landlords, to a large degree, but a HUGE part of the problem is that people are just not willing to support the little guy. Most people choose to shop online these days for convenience and price. What they don’t realize is that the little guy, who has to pay rent among other things, can’t compete. If we don’t shop in their stores, they will go away…that’s the bottom line. Sign all the petitions you want, but what will help most is just to go shop locally.
    Thanks for raising the issue.

    • ogradysarah December 14, 2011 at 2:54 pm #

      Joanne, you’re absolutely right about shopping online. The problem is, we have become such savvy shoppers these days – and who can blame us? So of course, if we see something online and it’s significantly cheaper, we go for it. I must say, I do it all the time. But what I’ve decided to do is stop shopping online for things when all it’s saving me is a few dollars. If it’s a significant cost savings, sure. I’m not Rockefeller – I’ll take a good deal when I can get it! But I am trying more and more to see the wisdom in spending a few extra dollars to keep my local small businesses afloat. I just consider it doing my part. The problem is, it still all stems from greedy landlords. Because if rents were more reasonable, the majority of retailers would be able to offer better prices, because their monthly operating costs would be lower. Full circle, back to the greedy landlords!

  8. Amy December 14, 2011 at 3:12 pm #

    I certainly don’t have a solution, but I am all for being a part of the discussion. Thank you for giving it a voice. My husband and I have always said that the town needs to be entirely restructured to make it more of a shopping destination. All the stores on Main Street are scattered, and parking is difficult, that it makes it an undesirable place to go and just walk around and shop. A little thought into store placement and better parking would go a long way, I think (more like the set up on South Moger, but hopefully even better). I’m sure the town board is open to hearing ideas on how to improve the local commerce b/c it brings revenue to them as well. I read the article the other day on the Patch where several people were recommending good ideas for stores in town- Apple, Trader Joe’s etc. I’m really not sure how realistic that is though. I’ll keep brainstorming for ideas and am happy to help in any way that I can.

    • ogradysarah December 15, 2011 at 9:23 am #

      Amy, you’re right – a restructure would really make sense. I know at one point, the town was considering a major one that would include another bank of retail on the parking lot side of South Moger. Bringing things closer to the train station make sense for a lot of reasons, and I think if community members raised these concerns and ideas with the town, you never know what might be revisited!

  9. Melissa L December 14, 2011 at 3:32 pm #

    I moved to NC from Mt. Kisco 5 years ago now and it saddens me to hear this 😦 What I missed most about living there was how convenient the shopping was. I could just run across the street and find anything!

    • ogradysarah December 15, 2011 at 9:24 am #

      Melissa – what is the retail temperature where you are now in North Carolina? Do you find the same problem there with a lot of empty storefronts?

  10. sheri December 14, 2011 at 10:14 pm #

    Sarah – as always, such a well-written piece. We have the same problem – if not worse, in Irvington, as I’m sure you know. I LOVE the Flying Pig and am dismayed at this news. Look forward to participating on Twitter – thanks for getting the conversation started!

    • ogradysarah December 15, 2011 at 9:25 am #

      Thank you Sheri! Yes, for sure, Irvington also suffers right now. Do you have any idea if the problem there is because of general economic issues causing the businesses to shutter or particularly due to landlords trying to raise the rents exponentially?

  11. David A. Singer (@DavidASinger) December 14, 2011 at 11:46 pm #

    Hmmm…don’t mean to throw cold water on the passion and enthusiasm here — but it’s hard for me to believe that the landlord of the Flying Pig is jacking up the rent to force the business out. The restaurant business in the burbs is a very tough business to make work. Not that many actually survive long term. The Flying Pig is at a little bit of a funky location also — i.e., off the main drag — its purely a destination spot — little impulse traffic there.

    It’s widely understood that restaurants have the highest failure rates of any retail concept. Lately I’ve worked with lots of owners and tenants on modifying commercial leases — rent relief, flattening out some contractual rent bumps — but there may come a point where it’s just not going to work at any reasonable rate. No property owner with half a brain wants vacant space. If you look around at vacancies on main streets (and even some shopping centers) in Westchester — the holes are not necessarily due to greedy landlords — but due to businesses that are struggling in this economy. In fact in the retail real estate world — it’s a great time to start local businesses because the rents are cheaper now than they’ve been in years. And the notion that the GAP, AnnTaylor and Annie Sez might leave due to skyrocketing rents — well — frankly that’s just absurd. No owner in their right mind would let these credit tenants walk out the door. If in fact these stores are leaving — it won’t be due to high rent –or lack of effort on the part of landlords to keep them — but due to lackluster sales volume — and a far-off corporate headquarter decision to close certain stores.

    Mt Kisco has and will continue to have a thriving downtown — the big hit of course right now is the demise of Borders. While lots of folks lamented its arrival years ago — it served as a retail anchor for downtown Mt. Kisco — so things may get dicey for a while — but once the economy revives — retail holes will get filled. But if anyone ever wanted to roll out a retail concept in Mt Kisco — or other main streets in Westchester– now is the best time to do it.

    • ogradysarah December 15, 2011 at 9:21 am #

      David, you make some good points here, but having spoken personally with local retailers who are actually suffering at the hands of their greedy landlords, I have to say I disagree with you on a lot of it. I think many of these landlords are indeed acting stubborn and greedy, and would rather have a place sit vacant and take the tax deduction on it than feel like they’re leasing their space out for less than what *they* think it’s worth. We all know that in residential real estate, a home is only worth as much as a buyer is willing to pay for it. Unfortunately, the same tenet is not holding true for commercial leases. To throw a name out there, Friedland Properties is notorious in this town for being an awful landlord who is trying to create a monopoly on commercial spaces, raises rents and pushes businesses out. Rumor has it he has some visions of grandeur of making Mt Kisco the left bank version of Westport CT – a la high end retail. That’s a nice vision and all, but one that is obviously not supported in today’s economy. And one that doesn’t fit with the makeup and personality of our town anyway!

      I agree that some of the big box retailers are leaving b/c of poor sales #s. In fact, Gap is closing half its retail locations in 2012, so we’re certainly not an anomaly. However, these stores came into this town knowing they wouldn’t make money here. They just wanted the visual presence in Northern Westchester. The point is, maybe they’d too be making money and could stay if their overhead costs allowed for it.

      I know everyone is out to make money, and the landlords are no different. It’s their job to own and lease commercial space, and they have to make a living. But I think if you talked to some of these retailers and businesses, you’d hear very differently colored stories about the way they are being treated by these landlords – unfairly, unreasonably, disrespectfully, and with little or no concern for their tenants’ livelihood or the effect the loss of that business would have on the town.

      I think that the way things have been done in the past needs to be put aside for the moment and we all (community members, business owners, landlords, etc…) need to start thinking a little out of the box with how we help one another succeed in this economy, and keep our towns afloat (and make them vibrant destinations!) Maybe that means landlords should consider unique lease agreements, like for “pop-up shops” for example. If you have an empty storefront, why not lease it out for 3 months to allow a local artist or designer to come in and create a pop-up shop and test the retail waters? Or, donate the space to the Arts so that it can be used as a pop-up gallery space or art exhibit/installation space. Have the artist or organization pay just the cost of utilities and insurance, and let the town experience something unique and exciting.

      I do thank you for joining the conversation because I think this fuels even greater discussion into what we can do as a community to help stimulate our local economy! So thank you!

  12. ogradysarah December 15, 2011 at 9:33 am #

    Just to shed a little more light on the situation, Friedland Properties owns the space that was occupied by Victoria’s Secret (now gone). They are asking, according to their website, $500,000 a YEAR in rent. That’s almost $42,000/month. The space that was occupied by Touch of Jamaica, which is a mere 600 square feet, they are asking $4250/month. (info pulled from http://friedlandproperties.com/listings.cfm).

  13. Rob February 7, 2012 at 7:37 pm #

    My two cents. The village has turned a blind eye towards shoppers park as well. The left turn into shoppers park was eliminated . Customers are forced to go straight or right towards TARGET. The muni meters and very aggressive parking enforcement has also left Mt. Kisco less desirable. Most of the succesful business’s in kisco have one thing in common ,good parking. Just imagine staying in target an extra 5 minutes and returning to your car and you have a ticket!!!!! Would sales go down 5,10,15% and the meters would be taken out very quickly. I have a store in town since 1997 and have seen the up’s and downs. Although we are doing ok it is scary.

    • ogradysarah February 8, 2012 at 12:01 pm #

      Rob, thanks for your comment. I agree, parking is a concern. Last night the Board of Trustees held a meeting with landlords to discuss the recent onslaught of vacancies in town, and the talk of unsustainable rents and unreasonable landlords that has been floating around town. It was a very interesting meeting, and the issue of parking was raised by several landlords and business owners. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of that conversation, and I hope that there’s something that can be done to accommodate shoppers and that the town can be a little more supportive/lax in their parking enforcements to allow for people to actually come to town and SHOP and spend their money here!

      Maria Colaco and I are hosting a town meeting on February 29th, 7pm, at the Library (Community Room). We would love if you would join us for that. We hope that it can be a positively charged meeting where we as a community can come up with some solutions to some of the problems plaguing our town, and proactively present those ideas to the people in charge of making them happen. You can follow the conversation leading up to that at FAcebook.com/occupymainwestchester.

      Thanks again for your feedback! And here’s hoping for a great 2012!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Cindrich Discusses Friedland Properties Meeting | commercialpropertytolet.net - February 18, 2012

    […] Friedland has been viewed by some in a village as a landlord that asks too most for a let rates (click here to review about it on a internal blog). The subject of how most is charged did not come adult […]

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