This past weekend I had to review a harborside restaurant for Boating Times Long Island. The first village my spouse and I headed to had plenty of available parking, which used to be rare on a weekday afternoon.
Empty stores lined both sides of the street. I didn’t count every storefront, but I’m guessing the ratio of occupied to vacant was no more than 2-1. What I did count was the types of stores which were open: three real estate offices, four salons and a variety store that sold ice cream. Even if I had money to spend, I’d be hard-pressed to find enough places to do so.
The waterfront area had three restaurants the last time I was there; now, two were out of business and the third seemed unappealing, so we ventured east to another harborside village.
We did find a very nice place to dine. After eating, we still had time left on the parking meter, so we took a stroll up and back along Main Street. What we found was no surprise by now: the huge deli was out, the home furnishings store was vacant, the toy store had apparently failed, a store and law office that have been empty for years remain that way, and paper covered up the windows of a few other formerly bustling businesses.
Lots of factors have gone into the decline of local main streets on Long Island. A major culprit is lack of credit: small businesses can’t get it to ride out the downturn, and residents don’t have any ability to spend as unreservedly as they used to, now that their home equity is gone and their credit cards carry very high interest rates.
I’m certainly not advocating credit without criteria or profligate spending. But a middle ground must be found, as real estate values won’t stabilize, let alone improve, if downtowns look like ghost towns.