Hooshang Nematzadeh, president of the Great Neck Chamber of Commerce, said on Friday he believes the solution to decreasing the number of empty storefronts in the Village of Great Neck Plaza is finding an anchor store that would attract other merchants to the area.
“We lack anchor stores in Great Neck Plaza,” he said. “You need an anchor that can help attract businesses to the area.”
Nematzadeh said the downtown area of the Great Neck peninsula is like “a shopping center” without an anchor store.
Nematzadeh said he will be proposing to the chamber’s board that one of its members go to the National Shopping Center conference in Las Vegas next May, where towns and villages go to try to convince businesses to set up shop in their downtown areas.
He said he hopes that the chamber member will be able to find an anchor store and convince it to come to Great Neck Plaza.
“Any national tenant, any type of store would certainly help the downtown areas in term of occupancies,” Nematzadeh said.
Village of Great Neck Plaza Mayor Jean Celender said the village already has several anchor stores, such as Starbucks and Waldbaums, and that the cost of attending the national convention would be “quite steep.”
Celender added that the village utilizes its membership with the International Council of Shopping Centers, the organization that runs the National Shopping Center conference, to recruit businesses to come to the area.
Celender said she’s attended a conference in Manhattan that is similar to the one held in Las Vegas.
“I think that we’re using that organization the best that we can,” she said.
Celender said the village has seen progress in reducing the number of employ storefronts with a decrease from 28 in January 2013 to 19 now – out of a total of 260 storefronts.
She said that number brings the village close to the amount of empty storefronts in the community before the 2008 economic recession, which in July 2008 was about 16, according to surveyor Amenta & Co.
“It was 6.5 percent back then, which Ted Amenta indicated was considered very healthy and akin to a community shopping center,” Celender said. “Not too long ago in 2011-2012 we were up over 12 percent vacancy rate, so coming back to 7.2 percent and trending lower, I think we’re doing well in this current economic climate, which is still only slowly improving.”
Nematzadeh, who said he counted 24 empty storefronts in the village, said Celender’s number was “excellent,” but added that he would like to see fewer vacancies in the village.
Nematzadeh added that Great Neck Plaza has “a better rate of occupancies than most areas [in Nassau County].”
“Great Neck Plaza has a lot to offer,” he said. “It’s a beautiful downtown, close to the train station, very active BID and a pro-business administration.”
Ron Edelson, president of the Plaza’s BID, said the decrease in the number of vacancies doesn’t only come from new merchants moving into the area, but existing ones expanding their businesses.
“There is construction going on in the redevelopment of locations to make them more retail-friendly,” he said. “Over the past year, over 30 merchants moved in, expanded or relocated in the village.”
Edelson said a part of the economic recovery in the village is due to landlords offering “rent rate adjustments and incentives” to merchants.
“We believe that will be a positive factor going forward,” he said.
Celender said the village has also worked with outside agencies to attract merchants to the area, including the International Council of Shopping Centers and the Town of North Hempstead’s Business and Tourism Development Corporation.
The village two weeks ago approved a conditional-use permit for business incubator LaunchPad, after working with the town to convince the business to come to the community.
Celender said the opening of LaunchPad later this fall will attract “young entrepreneurs, who are technology savvy, coming into the downtown.”
“The services they will attract and need will help bring new business to our restaurants, eateries, delis, pizzerias etc,” Celender added.
She said that the village is also updating its storefronts to attract merchants to stores that have remained vacant for many years.
She said that the updating of the storefront has “attracted Caffé Bene, a new Asian restaurant, and will help improve and get more tenants to come to this area of retail stores in the village.”
But, Edelson said, the village and the BID are also competing with an evolving “retail landscape has dramatically changed over the past several years.”
“Especially with the competition from online shopping,” he said.
Edelson said that the BID has started “an initiative to assist merchants with their online and social media efforts and we have significantly increased our use of online and social media vehicles to promote the shopping district.”
The Plaza has also faced the challenge of having long-time businesses leave the area, including the closing of La Rotonda restaurant in June, which had been in the community for 14 years.
Nematzadeh said while it was a “shock to lose La Rotonda,” it is the “reality of the times.”
“These kinds of stores, if their businesses are not increasing they’re unable to maintain their stores,” he said.
Nematzadeh said the closing of La Rotonda and other stores was due to increasing taxes and rents.
“It’s just a vicious cycle,” he said.
Both Nematzadeh and Edelson said they believe the number of vacancies in the area will continue to decrease, but Nematzadeh said the rate of occupancy will never get to a hundred percent like it was decades ago.
“In this day and age, it’s just not feasible,” he said.