Part one of a three-part series.
Ken Fine, the current owner of the , said he remembers a time when his business used to bring in significantly more revenue, he was paying much less in taxes to keep his doors open and he and his wife bought a car every four or five years.
It’s been 40 years since the locksmith first opened and 18 years since Fine took control.
“Business has been steady but the quantity and quality of material people are buying is lower,” Fine said. “The costs have gone up to cover business costs.”
Today, Woodmere’s business district, the short stretch of road between Woodmere Boulevard and Hartwell Place on Broadway, has faltered from a thriving shopper’s dream world, clustered with small businesses and heavy sidewalk foot traffic, to what many in the community see as a pit stop to other villages in the surrounding Five Towns community.
“Just because you see BMW’s and Range Rovers driving around here, what you see isn’t always what you get,” Fine said. “Small town American business is a tough gig today.”
There are roughly 16 lots for rent, lease or sale in Woodmere’s business district. Although Pugatch, the real estate company whose name is on the front of just about all of these properties, would not comment, store owners like Fine as well as neighborhood representatives and outside experts shed their own perspective to Patch over a course of months.
Matthew Sonfield, professor of management at Hofstra University’s School of Business, blames the economy for problems like this. However, he also acknowledges alternative possibilities leading many business communities such as Woodmere into desolate times, including poor business location and neighboring competition from surrounding villages.
“All business is hurting right now,” Sonfield said. “Some of the problem does have to do with demographics.”
Sonfield explained that the failure in one business district versus success in a neighboring community often stems from problems as simple as parking availability, traffic patterns or neighborhood ambiance.
To fight these issues, some prospective entrepreneurs in the neighborhood have sought out incentives when opening a new business in Woodmere.
When Woodmere Republican Club President Ann Schockett first opened the Community Enrichment Mini Center on Broadway, she made an agreement with the building’s landlord for a starting low rent in exchange for putting work into a building that was in shambles and rent that would increase every month after.
“If the landlords worked with the community, where they can come up with a creative approach to offer incentives, that’s worth the money,” she said. “It’s a give-and-take approach.”
Several merchants in Woodmere are also working together to improve the atmosphere of the business district. Vassa Couture, owner of Wedding Dresser Couture and second vice president at the (WMA), created the WMA’s Beautification Committee.
“We have to give people reasons to stop, hopefully by filling some of those vacant real estates and also by jazzing up the street a little,” she said.
The organization has taken some of the first steps to bring the community back by fixing the clock across from Franklin Place (a staple in the community), setting out flower barrels and creating a program to hang “Welcome to Woodmere” banners from light posts, currently on hold while it passes the Town of Hempstead.
The First Annual Car Show in August not only brought out a number of vintage car enthusiasts to Woodmere, but it also featured galleries from local artists, several businesses offered deals to customers and many stayed open past store hours.
“We thought it’d be good to get people out and tell people Woodmere’s still alive,” said Dr. John Santopolo, president of WMA.
Although Santopolo and WMA heavily encouraged store owners to keep the streets clean in front of their shops, longtime owners like Fine still remain skeptical that things such as that will revitalize the area.
“I’ve been here 20 years and it’s still the same old process,” Fine said. “Situations just change, and you can’t control that.”
He added, “Nobody knows the future.”
Would having its own village government help Woodmere get back on track? See part two of this series tomorrow.