The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.
To the Editor,
Much of the discussion of the prospective North Riverside Rezoning has focused on the addition of mixed use and/or other new retail outlets in the subject area. Great care must be exercised in considering any retail expansion in Croton, as brick and mortar retail is a declining industry in our area and the country as a whole. Under pressure from on-line retailers more and more retail outlets are closing.
According to Coresight Research, 5,864 stores closed in the U.S. in 2018. Thus far in 2019, 6,175 such closures have been announced and the projected total for the year is about 12,000 (Journal-News, 5/10/19). In some locations, entire malls have gone dark. Over the past year or so, Croton has lost its hardware store, the locksmith shop, and the athletic shoe store, and there have likely been others as well. The old Blockbuster Video store stood empty for years before a new tenant was found; the former German deli remains empty; and the small shop behind the dummy light is unoccupied more often than not.
An unscientific survey of village retail suggests that the largest number of our retail establishments offer food and drink. Restaurants and taverns. Supermarkets, groceries, and delis. Bakeries and ice cream shops. From this group, we have recently lost Anton’s, Memphis Mae’s, Umami, Justin Thyme, Tagine, and perhaps others. Although other restaurants have filled some of these spaces, how many more food outlets can Croton, with its limited population, support? The new Mexican restaurant in the old Umami space is just a few steps from Mex-To-Go. Can both of these establishments thrive in such close proximity?
We cannot dictate what type of retail outlets may choose to rent any of the prospective new spaces, but our recent history, combined with the growing preference for on-line shopping by many, if not most, people does not bode well for new stores in our village. For example, if there are two similar successful stores in Croton, and a third one enters in competition, it could result in the failure of one of them, or two, or, in the extreme, all three.
The concept of mixed-use assumes that rent from a healthy retail store will allow the developer/landlord to charge lower rents for residential apartments, and perhaps even allow for the affordable housing units being touted as part of the rezoning. But if that business cannot prosper in the current retail climate, the economic model falls apart. And in addition, we will have empty storefronts in our Gateway area that will certainly not enhance the impression made on those entering our village.
It has long been recognized that one of Croton’s problems with retail is the lack of a unified business district like, e.g., Pleasantville. We cannot do much about the existing dispersion of stores throughout our village, but encouraging even more of them across the entire study area will only make this situation worse.
Thus, it is incumbent on the Village Board and its zoning consultant to take account of the realities existing in retail trade in 2019 and not foster the expansion of retail space which may be difficult or impossible to rent and which may well result in failed businesses and empty storefronts in our village. One can only hope that this will be one of the topics discussed at next week’s meeting on the rezoning issue.
Joel E. Gingold