During the past two decades, many Great Neck businesses have shut their doors, but the new chamber president has a plan…
Story and Photos By Juliet Freudman
Yossi Gurevitch crinkled his eyebrows, contemplating the tough decision to close his store. Owner of Judaica of Great Neck since 2002, he holds this town and its people close to his heart. Gurevitch did not want to close his business but at a certain point, he had no other option.
“It was always difficult, but then it became impossible,” said Gurevitch.
Judaica of Great Neck, at 107 Middle Neck Rd., is just one of many local businesses forced to close its doors in recent years. While other towns on the North Shore, like Port Washington and Huntington, enjoy charming downtowns with local bookstores, bakeries, gift shops and a more extensive variety of restaurants, Great Neck Plaza’s shopping district has lost much of its attraction in the last two decades. Salons, banks and service-related stores have replaced the assortment of quaint shops in Great Neck Plaza.
“It’s just becoming a different town; it’s not what it was,” said Barbara Hamlin, Great Neck resident of 20 years. “Some of the beauty is still here, there’s still a beautiful park, but a lot of the stores have changed or gone out of business. Too many of the places I’m familiar with are closing.”
Hamlin said that when walking down Middle Neck Road, one can see store after store going out of business. Thinking back two decades to when she first moved in, Hamlin noted that the loss of diversity of local businesses has hurt Great Neck’s charm.
It’s no shock that Great Neck Plaza businesses are suffering. The alarming number of empty storefronts along Middle Neck Road has unfortunately become the norm, and it seems that just as soon as a new business opens, it’s expected to fail. So the question is no longer if but why this is happening.
According to Mark Wolf of Camp & Campus, at 42 Middle Neck Rd., the major threat to local businesses is a new population of community members who would rather shop
online or at larger shopping centers like Roosevelt Field Mall or The Gallery at Westbury Plaza. The convenience of finding parking and having all one’s shopping needs in a single location makes these shopping centers appealing, but even more tempting is the idea of not needing to leave bed to buy a pair of shoes or new dishes because everything is digitalized.
Gurevitch agreed that it is not a rise in rent that is threatening Great Neck’s businesses. Rather, the community does not support Great Neck businesses like it used to.
“It’s not that we are blaming anybody, but it felt like we couldn’t survive anymore, so it felt like we had to leave. There was a wave of people that told us they took [us] for granted. They were sure that because it’s a Jewish town, it must be that we’re doing well,” Gurevitch said. “If people here in Great Neck would care about little stores in town and not always do the comfortable thing, which is to click a button and order online, [it] could be a big help to these smaller businesses.”
Is it possible for small Great Neck businesses to thrive again?
“I honestly don’t know,” Wolf said. “If there was some way of convincing the new population that it’s in their interest for the business district to survive, maybe.”
Scott Zimmerman, owner of Aura Salon at 25 Cutter Mill Rd. and the new president of the Great Neck Chamber of Commerce, believes there is hope and that Great Neck isn’t done yet. His salon has been open since 2010, and believing Great Neck has a lot to offer, Zimmerman moved here in August 2014.
“Small, local business is definitely suffering, but I don’t think the town has lost its charm. I love it here; I still believe in this town,” Zimmerman said.
As president of the Great Neck Chamber of Commerce, Zimmerman has plans for a 2016 Shop Local campaign, pushing community members to shop in town. The campaign will include networking events, partnering with other communities and focus groups to find out what community members want and need from Great Neck’s shopping district. There’s still a lot of opportunity in Great Neck, the chamber president said, and that will be a central focus of this campaign.
“It’s a transitional period,” Zimmerman said. “As times change, you have to adjust with the times.” On that note, he explained that the campaign would help local business owners gain a foothold online and with social media.
“We are Great Neck, we are strong,” Zimmerman said. “Now we have to show people that.”
I think it is the high rent! I am very sorry to see the toy store and the restaurant la Giaconda close, we have no bakery – the only places that seem to stay open are banks and beauty salons – if everyone is shopping online why doesn’t manhasset, port Washington and even bell blvd share this problem? I really hope this can be corrected before it becomes to late
Yes there is!!!
Thank you for your commitment.
Besides aren’t being too high, I think the parking situation is not helping at all, customers are always complaining that they are short on time, and worried to get a ticket, and always in a rush to leave the shop.
How about forcing landlords to lower rent. Or penalizing them for keeping their store empty for too many years. Or tax breaks. Something. Get these stores filled!!!
Yes you can. I really hope you can help turn the tide and make great neck a vibrant shopping and eating area
The biggest problem is that Great Neck has an enormous school tax. The commercial tax rate is over 6% of the property value!! The property which used to be Bruce’s sold for over $1 million recently. At 6% that’s over $5000 per month just in taxes!! So how can such a small store charge less than $5000 per month in rent? Therefore landlords can’t drop rent prices and stores can’t afford to be here.
If other towns small businesses are thriving it isn’t the fault of online shopping and lack of townspeople wanting to shop locally. It’s lack of parking, high rents, and overzealous zoning.
First of all, when you have a struggling retail district, the most foolish thing is to make it more difficult for people to shop and for shopkeepers to stay. I don’t know what Mayor Celendar was thinking when she actually PAID people to tell her to raise parking meter fees and limit time. That had to be the most moronic approach that I have ever seen . Give free parking, longer parking times. Incentivize businesses to rent here. Possibly, they should restrict the amount of duplicitous business in this town. wE don’t need anymore nail and hair salons. We need restaurants.
Its high rents. Its why we don’t have lower priced stores like bookstores and bakeries. if someone opened a mini barnes and noble with a cafe here it would be a gold mine. It is also the stores not going with “the times”. Some stores can lower their prices a bit- offer more sales or incentives, and do things like have websites , which they advertise in the paper, or on their store signs…. they can set up online ordering. If someone is shopping in a store and they don’t have what they want the store can offer to order if for them. This is what they are competing with- the digital world, and the store keepers have to hop on the digital “bus”. The village though has to back them up by creating incentives for stores to stay in business, though. That promenade night this past summer was a joke. I gew up here and raise my family here. I live right in town and I get sad when I take a walk in gn plaza. There is nothing to do here, nowhere to shop. -Randi Needham
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