RED BANK - Empty storefronts that dot the downtown business district aren’t really vacant, and for the most part won’t be empty long, borough business leaders said.
The majority of those sites are being prepared to open or renovated to accommodate the expansion of existing businesses, said representatives of Red Bank RiverCenter, the management and advocacy organization for the borough’s business Special Improvement District.
According to James Scavone, RiverCenter’s executive director, and Jay Herman, who serves on RiverCenter’s board and is a principal in Downtown Investors, LLC, a local real estate development firm, more than 20 businesses recently opened, are preparing to open or are expanding in the downtown area.
“I’ve been in Red Bank for 25 years and enjoyed the gradual improvements” that the borough has undergone during his time here both as a resident and business owner, Herman said. “But 20 new businesses coming in at once, that’s incredible.”
Among the businesses coming in to town and expanding are eateries. They are: Oriental Empire, opening in English Plaza; Subway sandwich shop, under construction on Broad Street; Mac Attack, described as a “gourmet cheesery” with a shop in Montclair, is moving to Broad Street; Patrizia’s, an Italian restaurant under construction at 28 Broad St., the former Prima’s Home Café furnishings location; the new Robinson Ale House, one of Tim McLoone’s restaurants, going in where Murphy-Style Grill was located; and Runa, a Peruvian restaurant, locating to 110 Monmouth St., the site of the former Eurasian Eatery across from the Count Basie Theatre.
In addition, plans are on the drawing board for expansion of Muang Thai, 7 East Front St., a Thai restaurant that opened last summer, according to Scavone and Herman.
Jamian’s restaurant and bar, 79 Monmouth St., has plans to open a rear patio area, while Teak, 64 Monmouth St., will be adding dining space with its plans to build a patio on the roof.
There are a number of retail operations in the offing as well, they said.
Among the recently opened or soon-to-open shops are: Doc Shoppe, a shoe store specializing in the Doc Marten brand, relocated three weeks ago to 43 Broad St. from Fair Haven; Candy’s Cottage, a home décor business, opened a week ago at 28 Monmouth St.; Be Barrow, a women’s athletic clothing shop, is coming to 66 Broad St.; and two art galleries will be locating in the borough. One gallery will be at the corner of Broad Street and Harding Road, the other on Clay Street, behind Garmany. That location, expected to be approximately 9,000 square feet, will be the largest retail space in the downtown, according to Herman.
Other businesses just opened or in the planning stages, include Renaissance Pilates studio, 8 East Front St.; Kid Fit, a children’s exercise academy, at 16 Wallace St.; Red Bank Design, a furniture showroom at the former Love Lane Tuxedo shop at 12 West Front St.; Healthy Habits, a health food store at 65 Broad St.; and Red Bank Family Pharmacy, planned for the former site of Kramer Photography and Jade Garden Chinese restaurant on Broad Street.
Red Bank expansion includes YESTERcades, 80 Broad, a video and retro-game arcade, and Goldtinker, which had jewelry store locations in Rumson and Deal, will be consolidating the operation on Broad Street.
The former Ten Thousand Villages gifts and crafts at 69 Broad St. will soon have another tenant, but Scavone said the lease has yet to be finalized and he couldn’t name the business.
Hamilton Jewelers, which has been operating a shop in the borough since 2003, is departing its 19 Broad St. spot, unable to strike a deal with the landlord. But, Hamilton is interested in remaining here, searching for a new location, Herman said.
The Hamilton location already has been earmarked for a new tenant, a bar/club, according to Scavone.
There have been other businesses, some quite well known, which have approached RiverCenter looking for space to open here and are disappointed that there isn’t an available spot.
“People are clambering to come in,” Scavone said. “It’s a good problem to have.”
Like many other areas, Red Bank has had its share of business closings since “the sky fell in” with the 2008 recession, Herman said. The situation painted a painful picture of the downtown with a glaring number of storefronts empty or papered over. While the same was happening elsewhere, especially in strip shopping centers and malls, it seemed like it was somehow more pronounced, more noticeable here, Herman said. He believes the reason is the higher profile Red Bank’s downtown has over other areas.
“It’s because it’s everybody’s downtown,” he said, evidenced by the high volume of traffic Red Bank gets from those living, working and visiting here.
That, combined with landlords showing an inclination to be more flexible in negotiating rents – a chronic complaint from tenants has been that property owners were too tightfisted as they struggled to hang on in difficult economic times – plus a general upward tick in the overall national economy have been factors, to some extent, in the increased activity seen recently, Herman said.
“I think the single largest development is that Red Bank is a special place,” much more inviting than a mall, he said.
And, nothing succeeds like success with business owners wanting to duplicate what others have accomplished here, Scavone said. “It does sort of perpetuate it.”
Many of the vacant locations have been under contract for a period of time but have remained closed, which adds to the perception of a stagnant environment. But, Herman and Scavone said, in a number of cases, the development has been delayed as the owner sought municipal construction approvals and attempted to line up contractors.
Dean Ross, who owns and operates the Doc Shoppe was in Fair Haven for 15 years. He found that River Road location was more of a destination spot where customers specifically sought him out. “Red Bank is more of a shopping town” with more foot traffic, translating into additional, impulse purchases, he said.
Candy Galekovic decided to move her Candy’s Cottage from Pier Village in Long Branch where it had been for four years. “That was just too seasonal,” she said. “In the summer you did well but the rest of the year…
“I wanted something all year-round and I thought of Red Bank,” Galekovic said.
“While there are always those leaving,” closing for whatever reason, “the numbers coming, as opposed to those leaving – that’s the story,” Herman said.