New ideas have emerged in fighting the ongoing struggle of empty storefronts in North Hempstead.
The ideas include ways to increase foot traffic, attract retailers, and involve the community in re-energizing Main Street.
“It can’t be done by just the business community, or the civics, but all of us together – otherwise it doesn’t get done, said Roy Smitheimer, an economic development consultant with .
Smitheimer made these remarks at a downtown revitalization conference organized by North Hempstead’s BTDC on Friday, May 11.
The conference featured town and state officials, experts on walkable communities and more.
In most communities, coping with change is a challenge. Still, it can be managed by understanding the needs of civic groups, employers, senior citizens and other residents.
“Change is inevitable – through this process a community can embrace change on its own terms,” said Sen. Jack Martins, R-Mineola, whom many credit with transforming Mineola during his eight years as mayor.
And a little imagination can go a long way.
As an example, Town Supervisor Jon Kaiman pointed to , once a sand mine. “Great things can happen when we work together,” he said. “We can improve communities in ways people can’t even envision.”
When looking to attract retailers, assess market demand.
“Figure out what you want and need,” said Larisa Ortiz, who runs a consultancy from Jackson Heights. “Do you have market to support these retailers?”
Understand, too, that money not spent in a downtown is money leaking out of the community, she said.
As for landlords who don’t mind vacancies, she said, “Some property owners won’t want to play.” In that instance, “walk away,” she said. And seek out property owners with space large enough to accommodate retailers.
You don’t need glossy brochures to attract retailers, she noted. “Write letters – have maps, incentives,” she said. “The best way to convince owners is to have another retailer tell them, not you.”
Target existing successful businesses, she added. They might open a second or third location, and are in “the best position to be wooed,” she said.
Celebrate successes to build buzz, raising awareness about your community to other retailers.
When it comes to parking, Thomas Brown and Michael King of Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates in New York advise making the stop worthwhile to shoppers. That means not charging a $1 an hour if there’s not much doing in town. It also means discouraging a customer-only parking spots, which creates fiefdoms. Instead plan for a park-once mentality, not unlike a mall, so that shoppers can go to many stores without worrying about moving their cars.
Still, building consensus is not always easy, noted Dan Donatelli, co-president of Residents for A More Beautiful Port Washington. Working off of a community-wide visioning plan, the organization recently introduced a concept, which, among other elements, introduced the possibility of an overlay district – something Martins said worked well in Mineola.
The group received positive feedback on ideas including repairing sidewalks, replacing problem trees and more, said Residents Executive Director Mindy Germain.
Yet not everyone liked the Model Blocks concept, especially with an overlay district that could affect zoning, possibly introducing taller buildings on Main Street, and stressing a sometimes already difficult public parking situation.
Donatelli said Residents met with those who took issue with the plan, which led to constructive dialog.
“We felt by continuing dialog we actually got to a better place,” he said.
Reinventing suburbia, may go one step forward and two steps back at times.
But don’t get discouraged, experts say.
As Ortiz put it, “You’ll get a lot no’s before you get yeses.”