Promised Openings Unfulfilled, Existing Business Struggles

7 Years on, 2018, a very bad year for "Shops On Main"

Updated 13 weeks ago David Stone

It's May, 2011. "We're gonna do shock and awe," Hudson Principal David Kramer tells the Wall Street Journal in advance of a RIOC Board Meeting where a vote to approve a master lease for managing Main Street Retail was considered a sure thing. It was. The shock and awe part, we now know, was not. Vacant storefronts continue to shout failure to residents and visitors alike.

The Music Play Station was Main Street's successful opening, this year.
The Music Play Station was Main Street's successful opening, this year.
© David Stone / Roosevelt island Daily

When you talk with David Kramer, he still exudes confidence.

"Every year, we think, this is the year that Main Street tips and more residents from Riverwalk patronize Main Street. When Gristedes finally completed their renovation—which we’ll take credit as landlord for helping to instigate—we thought, now Main Street will be a thoroughfare for all the island residents.

"When the wine store opened, we thought, now here’s an excuse for residents throughout the island to traverse Main Street. When Nisi reopened, etc. It’s a little bit like Dayenu—it should have been enough for us. Our latest thinking is that if we recruit a yoga studio to Main Street, that use could help unify many different submarkets on the island," Kramer wrote in a Q&A, earlier this year. 

"I think successful businesses simply need to be smart, experienced operators with good services, good products and affordable to the community," he added.

"The retail space hasn't gotten the time and the attention and investment it needs," was what he told the Journal, back in 2011.

Few question Hudson's efforts to overcome the gaps of which Kramer was already aware.

Hudson invested in extensive facade renovation along the Main Street canyon. The area  was made more open and inviting.

In this area, Wholesome Factory thrives, Urgent Care welcomes residents in need, but you'd have a hard time convincing locals that Main Street Sweets didn't offer "good services, good products," was affordable and smartly managed by Scot Bobo. 

Main Street Sweets failed anyway, and nothing Kramer mentions appeared to be the cause. 

It's likely, as we've argued, that demographics are more to blame, coupled with false expectations based on misleading population claims used to attract businesses.

In 2018, A Turn for Worse on Main Street

The Music Play Station at 507 Main Street opened in 2018, but three promised restaurant openings, two originally announced for the summer of 2017, outnumbered it in failures to launch. Riverwalk Bar & Grill, a Southtown anchor, closed up shop after nine years.

Worries escalate with Gallery RIVAA closed for repairs again and described by insiders as "struggling for survival;" Nisi got off to a slow start and its recovery has been far from robust; and Bubble Cool, recently shut down temporarily by the Department of Health, frequently appears to have more employees than customers.

Three Openings That Didn't Happen

“We are excited to help meet the desire of Roosevelt Island residents for more sit-down dining establishments and a wider diversity of food options,” Alexandra Kaplan, an Associate Project Manager at Hudson, said in announcing a lease signing with Onda, a Mexican restaurant set to open at 548 Main Street.

Onda Mexican restaurant was originally announced for opening in the summer of 2017.
Onda Mexican restaurant was originally announced for opening in the summer of 2017.
© David Stone / Roosevelt island Daily

That was exactly two years ago, December 2016, and we'd be chowing down on Mexican delights by the end of summer in 2017, Hudson said. It hasn't happened, and there are no signs that it will soon.

Café Eleanor, a "panini café" was supposed to open in the same time frame. Late this summer, a year behind schedule, its owner told the Roosevelt Islander that it would be serving paninis, beer and wine "in a couple of months."

Café Eleanor also had an opening planned for summer, 2017, according to Hudson.
Café Eleanor also had an opening planned for summer, 2017, according to Hudson.
© David Stone / Roosevelt island Daily

Doesn't look like it, four months later.

In keeping with a history of announcing more lease signings than openings, in October, Hudson said Liukoshui, a hot pot restaurant at 568 Main Street, would be dishing up delights by the end of the year. 

Liukoshui Hot Pot was said to open by the end of year... yes, this year.
Liukoshui Hot Pot was said to open by the end of year... yes, this year.
© David Stone / Roosevelt island Daily

“We are excited to add another eat-in dining establishment to the Main Street retail corridor and look forward to Liukoshui adding to the vibrancy of Roosevelt Island," said Kaplan.

With ten days remaining in 2018, your chances of sitting down to Chinese food at 568 Main Street by year's end are better than yours for winning the New York State Lottery, but not much.

And ponder this...

When any one or all three of these restaurants open, what impact will that have on Nisi and Bubble Cool, neither of which appears to be thriving without sit down competition?

Main Street Retail

If anything signals failure clearly, it's the very term "retail," which my dictionary defines as the sale of goods to the public in relatively small quantities for use or consumption rather than for resale, when applied to Main Street.

Apart from food, we've got alcoholic beverages and the motley offerings of We Are One Boutique, both of which are being removed from Hudson/Related's management as part of deal where Westview exits Mitchell-Lama. 

Island Wine & Spirits is the single true retail business Hudson/Related has been able to attract. PupCulture is expected to open its doors at 544 Main Street in the spring.

Many residents resent what they believe is Hudson/Related's driving out hardware and stationery stores as well as a thrift shop. Others question whether turning over retail development to a real estate developer was a smart move by RIOC. Distrust in the move is driven by rumors of a sub rosa deal that saw Steve Shane ousted as CEO and Rivercross coop owners gaining windfall profits to get the votes needed.

In any case, unfulfilled predictions of shock and awe and rumored self-serving deals aside, the reality is that Main Street, even after seven years of Hudson's best efforts, remains a failed retail corridor as 2018 comes to a close. 

Each year, hopes are high, as Kramer noted, that this will be the year... but heading into year number eight, optimism probably isn't all that common anymore. 


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