Great Neck Plaza business vacancies returning to pre-recession levels

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Great Neck Plaza Mayor Jean Celender, in red, poses for photos and video with Saaho Village owner Spencer Chan at their official opening. (Photo by Janelle Clausen)

Saaho Village’s opening in Great Neck Plaza was, in a word, grand.

Dozens of people like curious Great Neck residents, officials and friends of the owner, flooded the restaurant, posing for pictures and picking at samples.

It was a two-year project in the making, store owner Spencer Chan said, and one that drew much fanfare.

“This is a new theme of the rice noodle,” Chan, who has worked in and managed restaurants in Chinatown for 40 years, said in a previous interview. “We’re a new concept.”

But Saaho Village is just one of the six businesses that have opened in Great Neck Plaza since March 1.

Like many of those new businesses, it provides a unique service that can rarely be found online, and is helping fuel a village revival.

When factoring in the village’s approval of 14 conditional-use permits since January, Great Neck Plaza’s business vacancies are returning to their pre-recession era vacancy rate, village officials said.

According to the village, 242 of their 260 retail storefronts are accounted for as occupied, meaning about 18, or 6.92 percent, are vacant.

Mayor Jean Celender said that in July 2016 – almost a year ago – that rate was 8.85 percent, or 23 stores out of 260.

“That’s a very positive sign when there’s businesses opening, especially when it’s in a vacant store,” Celender said after a May 3 village board meeting that saw three conditional-use applications approved.

Ron Edelson, director of the Great Neck Plaza Business Improvement District, said that the vacancy rate peaked between 11.5 and 14 percent during the recession, meaning 30 to 35 businesses were vacant.

For comparison, this was about double July 2008’s vacancy rate of 6.16 percent.

“That was when everyone was having a really rough time and the economy had gone south and people were not spending money the way they used to,” Edelson said.

Great Neck Plaza has had to steadily transform into a village focusing on conveniently located businesses that provide services, officials said.

This can include specialized doctors, pharmacies, drycleaners, restaurants ranging from Element Seafood to Subway – and basically anything that provides a unique service.

All of the newest businesses fall under this category.

“If you go back 30 years, it was mostly a botique village,” Edelson said. “That changed. That doesn’t exist anymore.”

This is due, in part, to general changes in shopping behavior, as more people are going online to buy goods. A 2016 survey by UPS and comScore, an analytics firm, shows that shoppers make 51 percent of their purchases online.

Kim Kaiman, executive director of North Hempstead’s Business and Tourism Development Corporation, said that active business districts, government and chambers of commerce have worked hard to put their respective villages back on the upswing.

“It takes a lot away from a sense of community, having the ease of being able to make purchases through your cellphone or your computer,” Kaiman said. “But on the other hand, I can tell you that a lot of the local downtowns are doing lots of things – community activities – to bring people in the downtowns.”

Ultimately, Kaiman and Edelson said, each village is unique and its businesses must cater to its residents.

“We have to exist off the people who live in our community, which means we have to be desirable to them to come into town and shop,” Edelson said, noting that Great Neck Plaza has been fairly successful on that front.

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