“Main street has become a food court”: Retailers feel like a minority
Main Street is a staple for the student body, faculty and visitors alike. During a traditional campus tour, the one-mile-long strip has its own dedicated stop where tour guides often make their case for which restaurant is the best place to go for lunch.
However Charlene Bertheaud, co-owner of Heart & Home, lamented the recent decline in retail available.
“It’s hard for us because of the lack of other retailers on Main Street,” Bertheaud said at a Newark City Council meeting on Oct. 23. “Bloom moved off Main Street, Grassroots downsized, Abbots closed, Moxxie closed, Clothes in the Fast Lane closed, Alex & Ani closed. Retail begets retail. It’s hard to continue to do business when Main St. has become a food court.”
Main Street is part of the Downtown Newark Partnership (DNP), a partnership established in 1998 between the city of Newark, the university and its residential communities and businesses. According to its website, it is “dedicated to the aesthetic, economic, cultural and social enhancement of downtown Newark.”
“It’s keeping Newark interesting,” Megan McGuriman, community affairs officer for the city of Newark, said. “It’s keeping downtown thriving, making Newark a destination, not just for students or residents, but for people from all over the country.”
A business, once it is on Main Street or in the Downtown area, is automatically enrolled in the DNP. The DNP cannot approve or disapprove of new businesses once they are open. According to Tom Fruehstorfer, a city planner for the City of Newark, neither does the planning or development committee.
“As a city, we don’t really choose which businesses will be there,” Fruehstorfer said. “Basically, we just check to make sure that they meet the requirements of the zoning code. If they meet the requirements, then they can open.Typically, they go to landlords first.”
For small retail owners like Mimi Sullivan, who opened Bloom in 2004, the transition to fewer local retail shops has been very evident. She approximates that nearly half the amount of retail is open on Main Street as when she first came to Newark 13 years ago.
Sullivan also said that Newark is losing the bohemian charm that first convinced her to bring her business to Main Street
“What I liked when we first moved in here was that there were no chains,” she said.
As many students have attested to, chains that cater to a younger, college audiences like Dairy Queen, Chipotle, Insomnia Cookies and Starbucks have come to define Main Street.
Grace Hanoian, a senior communications major, finds that food seems to be the criteria for what stays and what goes.
“I don’t think retail will survive [on Main Street]. I think clothing is too expensive for college students,” Hanoian said. “You look at Alex and Ani, which closed real fast. The only stores that seem to survive well are food stores because people like food. Clothing, in general, is way more expensive.”
McGuriman argued that despite the presence of chain restaurants and stores on Main Street, there were a few stores like Rainbow Records and Captain Blue Hen Comics which preserved the uniqueness of Newark.
“We have a very thriving downtown,” McGuriman said. “There used to be a lot of empty storefronts, there was need for development. I think that Newark is in the upswing of that.”