One Step Forward, One Step Back

Main Street Retail Update: September 2019

Updated 4 weeks ago David Stone
Rumors fly. Is change coming to Main Street's anchor supermarket?
Rumors fly. Is change coming to Main Street's anchor supermarket?
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

Nothing's official on the calendar, but rumors have it that David Kramer, who heads the effort to build Main Street Retail for Hudson Related, will soon update RIOC's board about its current state of affairs. Optimistic by nature, Kramer may not be the most objective resource.

"Onda will open as a Mexican restaurant in 548 Main Street, and Café Eleanor will open as a panini café at 503 Main," Kramer told The Daily in an April, 2018, Q&A.

If that doesn't give you pause, he boasted, "And Bubble Cool just opened."

Defending the dreary state of Main Street after seven years of ShopsOnMain, Kramer analyzed, "I think successful businesses simply need to be smart, experienced operators with good services, good products and affordable to the community," unintentionally giving the back of his hand to Main Street Sweets, a remarkable business that failed anyway and, a few months later, Riverwalk Bar & Grill, after nine years.

Riverwalk Bar & Grill closed after nine years, not because its owners failed to meet Kramer's criteria but because the sudden closing of Octagon Field in August, 2018, stripped away vital customers.

"The tenants at Wholesome Direct or China One or the Wine Store or Fuji East never complain to me about their business," he said, but with Wholesome Factory and "the Wine Store" sharing a single owner as does Fuji East and China One, that's just two owners out of 33 possible businesses.

How Does Main Street Retail Stack Up Now?

Stop Work Order, "Eleanor's Café," 501 Main Street.
Stop Work Order, "Eleanor's Café," 501 Main Street.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

Credit where credit's due, PupCulture is a model addition to Main Street Retail. An effective business model brings a stream of customers, PupCulture opened in April. With active dog daycare in view in its broad front window, the business added vigor and free entertainment to Main Street. 

Only Nisi, across the street, and Gallery RIVAA give the community that kind of pop.

Other new businesses include Liukoushui Hot-Pot at 568 Main Street, which did not do well in its initial Department of Health inspection and still has not posted a rating, and Jupioca. Jupioca filled in space vacated in 2017 by Swan Nail Salon in Riverwalk Commons.

Scales wobble when these qualified successes are weighed against closings at Riverwalk Bar & Grill, Roosevelt Island Urgent Care and BubbleCool. On balance, we've gone backward. Closed storefronts litter the Main Street canyon eight years after Kramer promised to "shock and awe" the community with activity generated by a fresh contract with RIOC giving Hudson Related control over Main Street retail.

That's not to suggest that Kramer and his team haven't tried hard, but ShopsOnMain seems to have been launched based on the same false premises that plagued Main Street for decades. That is, Roosevelt Island's population is far less, 11,661, than claimed, 15,000, by RIOC and others.

Other demographics add to the realization that Main Street will never see the foot traffic long promised to retailers.

Clouds on the Horizon

Questions abound concerning the future of the old Dayspring Church, but nobody's talking.
Questions abound concerning the future of the old Dayspring Church, but nobody's talking.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

Let's assume for now that none of the active businesses on Main Street are in trouble, and let's forget that Onda Mexican will never open, BubbleCool is dead and buried, and that, three years after applying for a liquor license, Café Eleanor is nowhere near completion and under a stop work order since early August.

Those are big, overly optimistic assumptions and exceptions, but bigger issues loom.

  • A year after Riverwalk Bar & Grill gave up, Kramer says he's holding out for another restaurant for that space. There is no realistic reason to believe that will happen and plenty to suggest we'll be looking at another gaping retail hole for years to come.
  • Large space abandoned by Urgent Care without notice or explanation from Hudson Related is occupied by Urgent Care tenants recruited to offset expenses. They may stay but can't be considered comparable to the lost leaseholder.
  • Rumblings are increasing about Gristedes, including rumors that its owners may be readying the operation for a handoff to Foodtown, a cooperative of independently owned and operated groceries. Complaints about short supplies and sharply increased prices are coming from both residents and sources inside Gristedes.
  • After evicting Dayspring Church, Hudson Related appears to have signed up an unnamed operation to turn the historic structure into a waterfront restaurant. That's fraught with issues, and when asked to address them, both Hudson Related and RIOC retreated into traditional bunker mode, not simply refusing to answer questions but pretending they weren't even asked.
2018 was not a good year for Main Street retail, and 2019 will be lucky to hold a kind of status quo. Until someone comes up with better ideas and more transparency, we can expect the same for 2020 and thereafter.

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