Merchant survey: Parking, business diversity, rent, top concerns

Scarsdale in the winter.

The continued effort to revitalize the village’s business center moves forward. The latest chapter opens with a report on a merchant survey conducted between August 2017 and February 2018 by the nonprofit Scarsdale Forum.

The Forum’s Downtown Revitalization Committee distributed surveys to 120 businesses operating in Scarsdale’s commercial district, and received 78 responses.

The survey covered all sorts of areas, asking about the challenges businesses face, what types of changes to the village center could be useful, where customers and employees park, busiest times of the week and top towns or villages from which the businesses draw customers.

According to the survey results, the merchants’ main concern was parking, with 64 percent of respondents characterizing parking as a “major challenge.”

The problems cited included “lack of parking for the merchants and their employees, as well as for consumers” and “overly aggressive parking enforcement that made the shopping experience in Scarsdale unpleasant, the lack of parking enforcement for those who long overstayed the limit and merchants who parked at meters needed for consumers.”

The most common recommendation from the merchants was to increase the number of parking spaces. “There appears to be competition between village merchants and their employees on the one hand, and shoppers on the other, for limited metered parking spaces in the village center,” the report stated.

“[Merchants] say the lack of parking is a terror for the business,” said Susan Douglass, chairman of the committee. “If there were more spaces for themselves and their employees, they’d have enough spaces for their customers.”

Parking has been a widely discussed topic in the village. From updating street meters to easing up on enforcement, village officials and businesses have all talked about what can be done to make things easier. Village officials hope the recently approved contract with Pango parking system will help solve some local parking issues. (See related article above.)

Other challenges for merchants are the cost of rent, competition from online shopping and a lack of retail diversity. According to the report, 85 percent of survey respondents said greater diversity in retail offerings would be “very useful” or “useful” to their business.

With the emergence of the Scarsdale Business Alliance, Douglass said the committee would love to collaborate with the group to further understand what other needs the merchants may have.

The survey of Scarsdale merchants was based on a Business Owner Survey designed by the University of Wisconsin and recommended by Main Street America, a not-for-profit organization that helps municipalities revitalize their downtown.

The customized surveys were distributed in person. Sometimes, it would take a few days for the merchants to complete the survey, but if business was slow, they were able to complete it that same day.

“Revitalizing the Scarsdale Village Center is an opportunity to define and celebrate its distinct personality,” the committee said in its report. “The challenge … is to define the combination of uses that best reflects the community’s preferences, captures market opportunities, builds on local assets and strengthens the community’s identity.”

The survey included room for merchants to leave comments at the end of each question, as well as a final, open-ended question asking for general feedback.

Based on the survey results, the committee suggested several areas for follow-up.

One was to form a subcommittee of the Downtown Revitalization Committee to review comprehensive solutions to the parking issues downtown. Another was to improve the number and variety of restaurants and retail establishments by combining and comparing the results of the merchant survey with the consumer survey that was conducted last year.

The committee also saw a need for improving communication about projects, garnering feedback from customers and updating downtown infrastructure and landscaping in Chase Park and Boniface Circle.

While the survey revealed the lack of adequate and desirable parking as the overwhelming obstacle to doing business in the downtown, the committee concluded most of the merchants who responded perceived the village center as a desirable location for their business, and see their business as accelerating rather than declining.

Getting feedback from the merchants allowed yet another perspective on the revitalization journey.

“I think the merchants wanted to be heard,” Douglass said. “They have views on how to revitalize downtown Scarsdale. They want to participate in the future of the Scarsdale downtown business community.”

The full report can be found on the Scarsdale Forum’s website, scarsdaleforum.com.

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