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.
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.
“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.”