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Larchmont Chamber Brainstorms Solutions for Ailing Downtown

More than 75 retailers, realtors, business owners and concerned residents braved the rain on Tuesday, February 23 for a brainstorming session aimed at detecting and overcoming the problems besetting the Village’s ailing business district.

Josh Mandell, the unopposed candidate for mayor in Larchmont’s March elections, said reviving the Village’s business district will be a top priority of his administration. “We have no control over the economy, but we can create an environment that is conducive to business,” he said.

The three-hour brainstorming session, organized by the Larchmont Chamber of Commerce at Tequila Sunrise, was led by Jeff Shaffer, a Larchmont resident and marketing consultant.

Jeff Shaffer of Flywheel Accelerated Solutions got the large crowd brainstorming.

Mr. Schaffer’s business is Flywheel Accelerated Solutions, and the idea was to work fast. Quickly directing the crowd to tables scattered around the room, he asked participants to identify essential problems, threats and opportunities. “The empty stores are a given,” he said. “Come up with the problems that are behind the empty stores,” he urged. (See: Empty Stores.)

In rapid succession, groups came up with (long) lists of problems on giant post-it notes. They then voted (using red, green and blue stickers) on the most important issues, and crafted potential solutions.

Problems ranged from landlord issues (“Absentee landlords won’t lower their rents and don’t care if the stores are empty,” reported one group) to many complaints about the Village’s regulations and building codes. (See: Businesses Struggle; Indifferent Landlords Add To Pressures.)

But Larchmont residents didn’t escape unscathed: one criticism was that too few residents patronize local stores and shop instead online, in White Plains or at the “big box” stores.

“Residents don’t understand that a failing business district has direct impact on their own financial well-being,” said Judy Graham, owner of Pink on Palmer. “It affects their property values and their taxes.”

The Big Four

Three hours and much discussion later, Mr. Schaffer said four primary themes had emerged from the evening’s work, and he asked for volunteers to work with the Chamber of Commerce on new sub-committees to address them.

1. Attracting complementary stores

It was agreed the Village needs more diversity in retail offerings, both in terms of price and product, although some felt Larchmont needs more high-end stores, while others felt too many residents are priced out of shopping here. The subcommittee working in this area will do research to identify current demographics and what local residents would like in the business district. They will also work to develop a Larchmont Identity campaign.

2. Parking problems and attracting new customers

With so many empty storefronts in the Village, finding a parking space is less of an issue now, but it needs to be addressed if Larchmont is to attract more shoppers. A subcommittee will focus on ways to attract a higher percentage of shoppers from 10538 and beyond and to address the parking issues. Ideas include developing a new website, educating residents on the easy of shopping in Larchmont and what is available, and developing other materials to draw people to the business district

3. Doing away with obstacles

The winner of the biggest problem, hands down, was “regulations.” There was widespread applause at mentions of expensive code compliance, protracted approvals for renovations or lack of flexibility on parking, street displays, signs or awnings.

Larchmont Trustee Anne McAndrews participated in listing threats and opportunities in the business district.

And despite a general unhappiness with current governmental regulations, some wanted to see a crackdown on unsightly empty storefronts.

“Whew!” Mr. Shaffer said as he reviewed the list of suggested improvements to regulations . “There sure is a rat’s nest of things here to peel aw- but it’s got to be done.”

Anne McAndrews, a member of Larchmont’s Board of Trustees, stayed through the entire meeting, occasionally wincing at the strident criticism of local government but gamely explaining that some of the regulations are set by county, state and federal laws.  She noted also that the upcoming renovation of the Palmer Avenue streetscape should help create a more attractive business environment.

The subcommittee on regulations will work with Village officials to remove some of the bottlenecks and address the parking problems

4. Helping landlords

While absentee landlords received much criticism during the evening, there was an appreciation for the difficulties they face to bring their buildings up to code and meet the Village’s requirements. A subcommittee will explore whether the Village could offer tax abatements or other incentives to help.

Next Steps

Two days after the meeting, Chamber President Jeff Rosenberg said his group is already hard at work at forming the subcommittees and developing tasks and timetables for them. “We need to take advantage of the momentum,” Mr. Rosenberg said. “It was a great start – but now we need to follow it up.”

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10 comments to Larchmont Chamber Brainstorms to Revive Ailing Business District

  • Ralph Engel

    Our Village Board, Traffic Commission and Parks and Trees Committee, working together, could certainly dramatically improve the looks of our off-street parking lots, to make them inviting, and improve signage so that they are easier to find.

    As is done in other area communities, our Village Board could provide partial funding for upgrading of storefronts, etc. Our business areas are simply not attractive, and how they look does not fit into what we (and others) think of as Larchmont; new sidewalks and street lights, alone, will not cure that.

    The trees to be planted could be ones that will shade the sidewalks, and be placed close enough to each other to do so, so as to encourage walking in warm weather.

    In winter the Village could do a far better job cleaning up the sidewalks, especially along the curb, than it has been doing, making it easier for people to park and shop. Sure it’s the store-owners’ official responsibility, but our machinery can do a better job than their shovels can.

    There are some corners near which parking is prohibited for no apparent reason. The sidewalk protrusions installed years ago do not help either. We need more parking spots, not fewer.

    As to stores, we need ones that offer what we who live here actually might buy, and at reasonably competitive prices. We certainly need a better mix of businesses–how many coffee places on Chatsworth within 200 or so feet of the train station do we need, and will survive?

    There are professionals who plan shopping centers/districts, some of whom live right here in Larchmont. As was the case with the meeting that was just held, we need their input as to how to make Larchmont even better, for all of our benefit.

  • Get the landlords to react to the market and lower their asking rents.

    Basic economic theory, when demand falls, supply stays the same, prices should fall. If they then feel that their property is worth less they can ask for their taxes to be lowered. However the landlords who are wealthy are not changing their asking rents.

    Larchmont is a beautiful quiet town that is finally coming to terms with large drug stores, supermarkets, and internet purchasing, which is the future of the 21st century. So many banks {that have recently been bailed out} are open that have already killed the image of so many Westchester towns, that the best idea is to make it easier for small businesses to open without so many hearings and controls. No one in the future is going to open a video store, drug store, sporting good store, so basically there are additional restaurants and / or food stores. So make it easier for them to open if possible.

    Remember when so many people from Larchmont were against IKEA which would have been based in New Rochelle? They felt that traffic would have been increased in Larchmont. Actually the exact opposite is occurring now without IKEA being open. There are fewer jobs in New Rochelle, unemployment is higher and there are so many empty stores in Larchmont that it basically looks closed after 8 PM with so many stores empty.

  • Local Shopper

    I think it is ridiculous to try to blame local shoppers for the empty storefronts. The problem is that those businesses did not undertand how to change with the times. People no longer wanted to purchase a children’s long sleeve t for $40. We need to figure out how to lure savvy business owners, who can understand the local demand and cater to it. Those stores couldn’t figure out how to modify their business model to match local demand and we need to bring in smart owners who know how to do that.

  • Lesley Seymour

    I’d love to shop Larchmont more often. As a resident however, I’ve found myself wanting to go downtown and have lunch and shop around but, at least in the recent past, have been unable to find a parking spot. I drive around and around and have to leave. Our parking regulations do not support a casual enjoyment of the area that lasts more than two hours. If you want to eat and then shop that gives you only an hour for both and that’s not very long to enjoy what merchants have to offer. I also agree that a diversity of shops would be helpful. When we become the same as the mall, but we don’t have the parking, that reduces the attraction. I think most residents want to support local merchants.

  • Vicki Rashbaum Horowitz

    I really make an effort to shop local in Larchmont. Seeing the empty storefronts make me very sad especially as some of those stores were places I frequented (such as the Larchmont Store). I do make a decision to eat lunch in town as often as possible at many of my favorite spots (The East Ave Cafe, LT, Manor Park Deli, Stanz, Bradley’s. These places all make Larchmont what it is–friendly, comfortable, and inviting. I applaud the efforts of whoever can help fill out storefronts with stores that will bring more business to our community. Yes, sometimes it does cost more to shop local rather than to buy items online but it’s important to support the Mom and Pop type of vendor rather than the large chain store vendor. Stores like The Voracious Reader and Anderson’s help maintain the local flavor of our village.

  • Support Local

    I think our local papers, online and print, could help by writing stories highlighting our local vendors. A small piece once a week that tells the story of a local business would go a long way towards reminding readers what is available in Larchmont. Stores opening or closing are written about, but not the ones that have been in business for years. As a local hometown paper, you can help by highlighting our town’s businesses regardless of whether they pay for advertising.

  • Anon E Mous

    Get out your typewriter and join this discussion!

    Think new and THINK BIG. Or watch as we join those [on] the list that didn’t [come] but wish they had. Or, blame who you want, if that what makes you feel better.

    Look around: the new Town Branch office at Myrtle Blvd., ‘Closed’, and so quickly; the ticket office/waiting room at the new train stations, ‘Closed’ so quickly, but you can stand outside – just think, it had just filled its long empty retail space; the new parking spaces for residents of the apartments building on the deck and elsewhere – more parking, more cars, more shopping outside our town and villages.

    Look around, as our neighboring municipalities build shopping centers and mixed-used developments. Hop in your car, where can you shop easily, or even go to the post office – yes there is one nearby in a shopping center with lots of free parking – go see it while the post office still exists.

    But wait, we all walk to do our shopping, don’t we? Or we take the municipal shuttle – oh, sorry, forgot that doesn’t exist. So just how do we shop? How do you shop? Why so many trucks from personal service of the on-line supermarkets, the cleaners, the general package delivery services? Shop on the web – oh no, not yet, not here – was that you ordering that stuff :-)

    But not to worry, government will zone out what we don’t want, tax the landlords and shops that make money, but shop local ’cause you’ll get some sales tax revenue, as long as you’re in the right municipal boundaries. Forget capitalism. Forget the free will of shopper and rules of supply and demand and competition.

    Oh, and yes, we’re out of space – don’t want none of those new big things, big boxes or other, especially if they’re high – in our neighborhood. Even if they could mean better shopping, better housing for many, better schools. We’re different, we can be better, if something got out of our way. We always have been.

    So let’s keep things just the way they are, or ask people to change back to the way they used to do things. Because we want the problem solved, we just don’t have the commitment to solving it. It’s really someone else’s doing anyway.

    Or, we can change what we need to change to go along with the changes that have happened and will continue to happen in our world, the world in which our community is a part.

    More parking, more cars, more going shopping elsewhere. Less paper, more information, more shopping elsewhere. And else, shopping at home. Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.

    We are a community of great abilities. We’re now challenged to use them. Others are

    ‘I know not what the future holds, but I know who holds the future.’ – Author Unknown

  • Eleanor McNamara

    Merchants who close up shop at 5 or 6 p.m. leave those of us who commute to work very little opportunity to support local businesses. I’d love to see all the storeowners agree to stay open until 7 p.m. just one night a week.

  • DR

    I’d hate to think that the supposed lack of parking, at least in the Palmer Ave. area, is deterring people from shopping there.

    At worst, you may need to go a block or so up Chatsworth, Wendt, or Larchmont Avenues to find a space, but never further than that. This is still a shorter walk than from a mall parking garage into a store.

    Walking a block or so is a very small concession to make, especially now that the snow is disappearing.

  • Patty

    I am one of those area folks who has started buying more locally and less online to support the businesses and keep more storefronts from going dark. This is easier in some stores than others; for example, hopping over to Pink on Palmer, Futterman’s, or Foley’s, you can purchase an item with a price tag in line (or reasonably increased) from what you would find at a larger chain store, step into some other establishments and the mark-ups are daunting. I can handle a 20% markup to go local, but in many cases I’ve paid much, much more and it makes me feel like a chump. The question is: how much more are consumers willing to pay for the convenience and flexibility of a local shop? To get the answer, we need more discussions between the vendors and the community, some more open “brainstorming” meetings and possibly focus groups, and then have an honest conversation with the landlords to set fair, market-appropriate rents and penalize those who don’t.