Facing a rise in empty storefronts, Mount Kisco's board of trustees is getting input from landlords and the community on what to do to reserve the trend.
Hold a rare work session Tuesday night with landlords, the mayor and trustees asked them to give their anecedotes, challenges and what can be done to promote commerce in the village.
Early in the meeting, Mayor Michael Cindrich acknowledged that landlords have been getting some of the public blame for the vacancies, with that being one of several complaints being heard.
“Now, there’s a lot of innuendo out there about landlords forcing people out, [that] the rents are too high," he said.
Cindrich also gave an estimate for the village's commercial space that got assistance with from realtor. He pegged it at roughly 1 million square feet and with a vacancy rate of 9-10 percent.
Some landlords described how they tried to help their tenants or about how rents were kept low to lure them in.
“It’s not everybody that’s trying to get ridiculous prices," said Jerry Saroken, who is the landlord for 65 S. Moger Ave., which includes and Westchester House & Home.
Saroken said that, prior to helping create Westchester House & Home himself, he spent about two years with a vacany of his second-floor space that had previously been rented by furniture stores. At one point, he said that he was asking for just $5 per square foot.
Adam Brodsky, whose firm owns the East Main Street property that includes Jos. A. Bank and the former Wine Junction site, talked about attempts to accomodate the defunct liquor store. They included cutting the rent by about half, he explained.
“We worked with this guy every which way and he just couldn’t make a go of it," he said. Competition from Target in the way of store convenient, plus the parking situation, were cited as problems, Brodsky said.
What Can Be Done?
To attract new businesses, Brodsky felt that getting an anchor tenant, one that in turn creates side benefits for surrounding businesses, would help, as well as having stores that are unique.
He felt that getting a national company in could be a benefit, and stated that larger companies and mom and pops can have a symbiotic relationship. For example, he said that Jos. A Bank, along with Cafe of Love nearby, have helped with regards to getting prospective tenants looking at the Wine Junction site. Nevertheless, Brodsky explained that the problem is with the economy holding back retail expansion.
Some landlords brought up concerns that the getting tenants in has to do with village regulations.
“Capital goes where capital is treated best," said John Bainlardi, who owns 681 E. Main St., with tenants including Dunkin' Donuts and A&S Fine Foods.
John Martabano, a downtown landlord whose holdings range from 222 E. Main Street (tenants include F.A.B. and Abyss Scuba) to the movie theater site, felt that the planning process can discourage tenants. On the up side, he noted that Mount Kisco is a geographic center for the area and that there is great dollar value in terms of people spending and making money.
Signage regulation and parking enforcement were also concerns raised.
Trustees stated that they are not anti-business and noted interest in helping merchants.
“We’re not driving business out of here," said Trustee Joseph Morreale. "We’re trying to encourage people to come.” He said that he was impressed with how landlords have helped their tenants and in how businesses how been adapting.
Cindrich expressed interest in relaxing signage regulations for things such as celebrations, grand openings and sales. With regards to outdoor display signs.
The mayor reiterated his interest in updating the village's master plan as a way to help businesses, including in the seperate but related area of office commercial vacancies.
“As far as I’m concerned the zoning ordinance is a living document that should be reviewed constantly to make sure that the zoning fits the reality," he said.
Getting the Word Out
There was also interest expressed in doing more promotion of the village and in shopping locally.
Phil Bronzi, president of the Mount Kisco Chamber of Commerce, said that they are looking to try and explore a marketing campaign, and cited similar examples that chambers have done near by.
Bronzi also called for there to be continued collaboration within the business community. Referencing a recent merchants' meeting that he attended, Bronzi said, “It seems that both sides, just from the meetings that we’ve had, are saying the same things.”
Local blogger Sarah O'Grady, who has been organizing residents who are concerned about the vacancies, stated it was very nice to hear about the stories of concessions made by landlords. However, she felt that higher rents are still a problem for some merchants.
O'Grady, along with fellow resident Mara Colaco, were among those attending the meeting and are organizing an ad hoc discussion group called Occupy Main Street. While the term "occupy" has a similarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement, O'Grady explained that it “is about the idea of literallty occupying Main Street, bringing people into our town.”
Feedback from the landlords brought encouragement from board members.
Trustee Anthony Markus stressed having collaboration, saying “that’s the key.”
Cindrich praised landlords for helping their tenants out, which he called "commendable."
Deputy Mayor George Griffin, perhaps, straddles both sides. He is also co-owner of , he is seeing his business struggle financially due to the down economy and the particular hit that the construction industry has taken. He expressed his interest in supporting fellow Mount Kisco merchants and noted that in the past he has advertised local shopping while promoting Richard's.
“I intentionally shop locally," he said.
Griffin also defended the village with regards to handling of retail proposals, noting that they have a process where if a proposal does not have a change of use from its previous space, it will not go through planning board review.
Tuesday's work session is perhaps the first of what will be several events to discuss downtown retail. Later this week, Cindrich plans to meet with an official from Friedland Properties, one of the biggest downtown landlords who could not attend the session. In addition, he hopes to have a similar work session for tenant merchants. On Feb. 29, O'Grady and folks from Occupy Main Street will have a meeting at the Mount Kisco Public Library to discuss the issue.