Vandalism Should Be a Wakeup Call

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the editor:
The smashing of a vehicle window in Croton is disturbing (The Gazette, week of April 5-11), and that the victim is a hardworking immigrant who actively supports our community makes this an embarrassment for Croton as well.

Occurring in broad daylight just steps from a daycare center, the timing and place of this vandalism should be a wakeup call. When people feel they can do this with impunity, it creates an environment which is damaging to public safety and to property values in our Village. 

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

I hope that somebody comes forward with information to apprehend the vandal. The vandalism comes in the context of other developments. The Upper Village has gotten a shabby look in recent months. In addition to the ugly vacant storefront at the former Three Dog Bite, exterior storefronts have become billboards for advertising flyers. The row from the Chinese restaurant down to the former German deli now sports a variety of flyers, which remain even after they have been exposed to wind and rain.

A word of thanks is due to ASAP Mortgage, which has always kept an attractive storefront since it opened last year. If every business owner and landlord followed their example, the Upper Village would be a better place.

Not only does the Village refrain from doing anything about the growing eyesore, our Village has chosen to add to the visual blight by putting up “Solarize Croton” flyers alongside the other advertisements. Solar energy is a wonderful cause to promote, but I don’t think the Village needs to litter in order to do so.

I do give credit to the Village for last week’s clean-up of the municipal land along Old Post Road opposite the Municipal Building. It had come to the point that the Bud Light cans and potato chip wrappers had been joined by a single white ankle sock which laid in the middle of the sidewalk. Perhaps it is time to consider a small trash can. Yes, people should take their trash away. But they are not doing so, and since this is part of the Village trail system a bit of pragmatic action by the Village is not unreasonable.

The Village of Croton gives a lot of thought to problems such as the proper level of federal funding for the National Railroad Passenger Corporation and where Comptroller DiNapoli should invest the state pension fund. And no doubt the leadership in Washington and Albany eagerly awaits the latest pearls of wisdom from Croton.

Compared to weighty matters of state, a smashed car window or visual pollution are unworthy of great minds who “think globally.” Indeed, in the current environment it is downright reactionary to suggest that the Municipal Building focus on such pedestrian concerns.

But unlike events in Washington or Albany, the Village can have an immediate positive impact on the conditions in the Upper Village. Moreover, if we don’t think locally and act locally nobody in Washington is going to do it for us. There are specific steps which can be taken.

First is to reach out to the landlords of the retail properties. If they have allowed the posting of these flyers, then they should be encouraged to rethink that permission or at very least to have the flyers posted on the inside of the window. If they have not given permission then the Village should consider implementing and enforcing appropriate code provisions.

In addition, the Village should encourage owners of vacant storefronts to maintain the property in a manner which takes into account the impact of aesthetic factors. The value of the landlord’s property is tied to the desire of entrepreneurs to rent, and who wants to open a store on a blighted street?

The local business community also has a stake in having an attractive and safe Upper Village. Working with the Chamber and the Rotary, the Village can leverage the knowledge and enthusiasm of people whose focus is on retail sales development.

Croton’s arts community is another resource: some communities such as East Hampton and Riverhead have worked on bringing together artists and landlords to utilize the vacant frontage as an artistic forum.

Croton should also seek advice from other municipalities. I don’t agree with all of Beacon’s requirements, but at least Beacon’s leadership has given this matter some thought. Larchmont and Bronxville struggle with retail vacancies but you don’t see tacky flyers taped on the outside of store windows or trashed interiors. In both of those communities, there is an explicit commitment to prevent retail blight. In Bronxville, the Mayor’s “shop local” campaign reminds residents that the sales tax revenues keep property taxes down. In Larchmont, the Mayor says that retail vibrancy “is our top priority as the village board.”

I realize that local issues are not the top priority of our village board. But we have some sharp Village employees, and perhaps they could deal with the current state of the Upper Village while our elected officials are busy saving the planet.

All of us as Croton residents can do our part by making an effort to shop local, and support our Croton businesses. Retail is changing permanently, and unless we want decaying streetscapes we need to welcome businesses who are willing to contribute to our economy. In the last 2 years, Croton has seen a number of foodservice and beauty establishments open. Unfortunately some residents went on social media to complain about having too many delis and nail salons.

This negative attitude is short-sighted and based on the idea that Croton can turn back time. When prospective tenants read negative and hostile comments on Facebook “community” pages, they look elsewhere. We don’t have the population density to bring back artisanal toy stores or bookstores, and that is a reality we need to accept in the online era.

Smashed car windows and vacant storefronts are not a good image for Croton. We need to spend some time thinking locally and acting locally.

Paul Steinberg