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What Are Bethel Retail Landlords Saying About The Empty Storefronts?

Thoughts about the market varied with landlords and business owners.

 

In the present economy, many commercial areas in Bethel and surrounding towns are dotted with some unrented retail space.  Is this becoming a prominent concern for Bethel business owners and residents, who may wonder what direction the town of Bethel will take.

Some residents have concerns about the economy of the town. They may wonder, what are the landlords thinking?  Are they having a hard time renting the space? What are town officials think about it?

There were some surprising answers.

"We turned down at least ten businesses," said Perry Anastasakis, regarding renting the empty retail space he owns next to his present business.  He is the owner of Famous Pizza, on the corner of Greenwood Avenue and P. T. Barnum Square, and also owner of the two empty store fronts on either side.  "We are lucky we can pick and choose, it's not the economy" he said.  

Anastasakis said he prefers to choose renters to compliment his pizza business. He indicated that an ice cream shop would most likely occupy one side and a tutoring company on the other side.

"People think landlords get a bad rap.  Some landlords milk their property for all they can get, but we are in it for the long haul," said Anastasakis.  "I like downtown Bethel with family-owned businesses supported by residents." 

He indicated he is not partial to strip malls but that a combination of businesses, both non-retail and even chains, is healthy. "Any business that brings traffic is good," said Anastasakis. "Competition just keeps you on your toes.  Good that there is a market."

Another Bethel landlord, Edward Staib, is having a completely different experience. 

Life-long Bethel resident Staib has owned a Bethel commercial building since 1973, that includes two empty retail spaces located on Greenwood Avenue across from the library.  Staib said the property was originally owned by his great grandfather and passed down through the family. 

The two spaces were occupied by a children's art studio and a photography business last year, but have been empty since January 1, 2012 when the leases ran out and the business owners left, Staib said.  "Everyone is looking but no one is renting.  The economy is bad.  I've never had a problem renting a store before." 

The stores are 1,000 square feet each (800 showroom and 200 storage) and Staib said he has no plans to renovate or lower rents in order to attract renters.  "One store was renovated four years ago," Staib said. He and the photography store owner had combined their efforts to upgrade the space.  

Staib is not using a realtor and is trying to rent the spaces himself. He has signs in the windows with his phone number on them, he said.

Staib said most people are expecting to pay $400 to $500 for rent, which is too low, he indicated, but he preferred not to reveal the present rent for this story.

Regarding how Staib feels about Bethel business, he said, "It is decent but not where it should be. No one has any spending money. They use it for gas and for food.  All spending money is taken away."

Staib did not think the town was doing much to change the present business situation, but Director of the Chamber of Commerce Bobbi Jo Beers believes that the spaces downtown can be rented and successful under certain conditions.

"The location is good," she said. "If the price is right and the business has a sustainable idea, it can be successful.  But you need a business plan and a good product, and it helps if you have money to advertise."

First Selectman Knickerbocker indicated that there are a number of solutions the town has done to bring more business into Bethel.  He said that for the past year the Bethel Farmers Market has been an attempt to bring more people and business into town.  Knickerbocker also said that demolishing the Old Town Hall is addressing some of the issues about lack of parking for that area near Staib's storefronts near the library.  "We had studies done by the engineering firm of Malone and McBroom," Knickerbocker said, regarding town parking areas. 

"Quarterly meetings are held with landlords and also business owners," Knickerbocker said.


What are residents thinking about when it comes to businesses on Greenwood Avenue and other main shopping areas in Bethel?

What would you like to see take place in Bethel?  What types of businesses do you think should come to Bethel?  What needs to happen to improve the present situation? Or do you think Bethel is fine as it is?  Post your comments below.

Matt Alongi August 29, 2012 at 02:13 PM
There are tons of Bethel shoppers who are willing to go to the mall and spend money - so why would they be opposed to spending money in their own town - supporting their own town's economy? Look what Dolan Plaza has done - perfect variety of shops and it's always a full parking lot. Street-side businesses are different, I get that..but there are definitely ways to drive traffic to downtown Bethel. I think maybe in YOUR store people are not willing to spend more than 1-2$ on anything (for whatever reason), but if there is a wider variety of business downtown - it will drive everything as a whole. Maybe there just isn't enough variety over there that people aren't seeing it..I've lived in Bethel my entire life and the only thing I know in that corner is Curves and Disc&Dat. Advertising helps too - the Sycamore is part of the advertising on placemats - there is Patch.com for advertising..NewsTimes..98Q..TV...it's not cheap but Comcast gives good deals to small business owners - look at Quality Gem, prime example of success based on good advertising.
Skip Clapp August 29, 2012 at 02:30 PM
Joe, I'm a life long resident of Bethel and have watched it grow from 3,000 people. We also have a place on Lake Wallenpaupack in Greentown (Ledgedale area) and do a lot of shopping in Hamlin, Newfoundland as well as Hawley and Honesdale. I agree that there are a fair amount of empty space over in that area as well. I agree with the comments here that money is tight and will only be spent on items that are really needed. Empty store fronts along any town give one the impression that things aren't good within the town. Landlords have to adjust according to the times if we are going to have any type of small business rebound, especially retail.
Paul Improta August 29, 2012 at 02:30 PM
I looked for space in downtown, and I can attest to what Bill Hillman says. If landlords feel they have the luxury to have their space empty rather than renting it for a rent that sustains a tenant, then let it be empty. The traffic doesn't support the rents they are asking. It's basic economics. Greenwood Avenue is NOT Greenwich Avenue. Funny how the vacancy rate in Stony Hill is far less than downtown, with more development being proposed.
Skip Clapp August 29, 2012 at 02:37 PM
I think that part of the problem is that with all good intentions by the people who want to start up a business is that we have too many of like ones. No matter what it is, any town of any particular size can only support just so many like business, i.e. coffee shops, pizza shops, ice cream shops, etc. Here in Bethel we've seen just these types of businesses start up and after an initial burst of success they have to close. Thats not good for anyone, owner, landlord or the public.
Paul Improta August 29, 2012 at 02:37 PM
Lake Ariel and the big lake are a vacation destination for people from the tri-state area, Bethel is not. Hamlin, Hawley and Honesdale are dependent upon vacationers and second home owners from such places as "The Hideout". People don't have the disposable income to spend now that they once had. (We once had a place in Cobb's Lake Preserve).
Matt Alongi August 29, 2012 at 02:39 PM
@paul because Stony Hill is right off the highway and Rt 6, no brainer because there is shopping traffic there - as opposed to more commuter traffic downtown. Stony Hill also has motels, more travelers and has a good foundation for business, if not for the traffic alone. Good points though, just wish downtown could have a little more to offer.
Matt Alongi August 29, 2012 at 02:40 PM
@skip couldn't have said it better myself. We need more variety - but gift shops and small ornament boutiques just don't do it for me or anyone in Bethel
Christine Rose (Editor) August 29, 2012 at 02:55 PM
Would anyone like to share any thoughts about what kinds of shops they would support in downtown Bethel? Do you ever find yourself saying, I wish there was a _____ downtown? Do you think having a performance space for plays and concerts would draw people into town?
Ann August 29, 2012 at 03:22 PM
Matt, I have a vintage shop and people come in and want to pay tag sale prices (i.e., I had 1940s canning jars with metal lids with a price of $1 on them and a woman wanted 2/$1 and put them down where she stood -- not even back where they were - when I said, no, the price is $1 each!) Just Sunday I had a woman come in the shop and I gave her a $2 price for a business card holder. Then she found another little thing she wanted that was $1 and she wanted me to give her both for $2 -- Again I said no because who can't afford to spend $1 on an item in a store? This isn't unusual. Everyone wants things for 50% less even though I have everything priced at almost tag sale prices. I do need to advertise but it's hard to do that when the money doesn't come in. It's a catch 22. Luckily, selling on Ebay is my main source of income and that's why I can stay open. Also, my landlord was happy to give me a reduced rent so it's not too bad but I still can't always sell enough to cover the rent, let alone gas, electric, telephone & internet! As to the question of why people will spend money at the Mall but not in their hometown -- in my case, I guess it's because a lot of people wouldn't consider buying used and would rather spend 10X more for something because that's all they know. Once people get used to buying used (either on the internet or locally) it's hard to go back to shopping retail at a Mall. Many older people who come in love to look but don't need anything.
Rich August 29, 2012 at 03:24 PM
personal wishlist: 1) A dedicated quality butcher shop or a 2) Army/Navy/Sporting Goods/Casual wear BHS/Bethel themed attire Probably not going to happen. Tough to say what would work when a downtown storefront has to complete with the 800 pound gorilla in the room who's initials are WWW. Website and warehouse rule the day. Perhaps a storefront(s) with solid websites and local warehouse space so the retailer can buy product in volume and offer lower cost to walk-in and e-customers would be an idea.
Ann August 29, 2012 at 03:29 PM
I think a lemon ice type place would work better next to Sal's Pizza in Dolan's plaza. One of the old fashioned ones hand made and put in the accordian cups that flatten out to a circle. Small portions for $1.50 and a larger size. Lots of people are watching their weight and want a little sweetness but nothing too big. Peach Wave allows for small portions or whatever you want but it can get expensive. I think ices have a high margin and there can be a big variety. I still remember going to a great lemon ice place with my family (7 children, so money was tight in our 1 earner blue collar family). At that time it was $.05 for the very small cup size and what a treat. We loved going there about once a month in the summer. It was across from the old Palace Theater and is no longer there.
Paul Improta August 29, 2012 at 04:00 PM
Rt 6 has its pluses and minuses, but also consider that RT6 is also a new competitor to downtown.
Princess Pea August 29, 2012 at 04:17 PM
Couldn't have said it better. Low-rent space attracts low-rent tenants with sketchy or non-existent business plans. Surprise, surprise.
Honorah O'Neill August 29, 2012 at 05:48 PM
At least two of those storefronts will be occupied very shortly, for a short term lease. The Democrats and the Republicans will take up at least two empty spaces 'til end of election season. As to the parking situation, still waiting on the signs for both downtown municipal lots. They have NO visible signs directing to them, NO signs indicating they're municipal lots. (there's one directing to the senior center lot... that's behind a tree and totally invisible to drivers. It's only visible to people walking on the sidewalk) This would be a minimal investment with a big payoff as people from out of town or new to town may have no idea where those two lots are.
Bill Hillman August 30, 2012 at 12:54 AM
Christine, If landlords like Mr. Staib simply want "X" for rent and don't care how long it takes to get "X" and not 2/3rds "X" we will continue to have empty storefronts. This makes downtown less attractive for other business to consider moving downtown. Unless the landlords acknowledge the laws of economics, little will happen. You need rents that enable a firm to sell products at reasonable prices. The town needs a variety of shops that works within the demographic, and maybe a stretch to attract the Redding and Newtown crowd. We already have a number of liquor/pizza, restaurants, antique, consignment places. We don't have any of the "standard" clothing places that often show up in other towns like Chico's or Talbots. We could use additional music venues, and I know Wendy Mitchell is doing something along those lines. This is basic marketing, along with landlords that prefer not to sit on empty space. Then again, it's their empty space, and who am I to tell someone what to do with their property?
Christine Rose (Editor) August 30, 2012 at 01:48 AM
Ann, thanks for the memories. :-) I remember those ices, too. Loved them!
J.D. Hill August 30, 2012 at 11:33 AM
I think we could still have a bigger variety of restaurants - I'd love to have an Indian or Mexican restaurant downtown (like Mexicali Rose in Newtown). I would welcome a bigger performance place as well, but that can be a challenging business, both in terms of finding a big enough space and managing it.
Ann August 30, 2012 at 11:46 AM
J.D., I agree, I think we could use a wider variety of restaurants. It seems no matter what the economy, people still eat out a lot (especially at lower priced restaurants). I personally like the idea of an Indian restaurant but I don't know if Bethel is the place for that. A Mexican restaurant would be a great idea. Maybe even a Greek or Hungarian restaurant (like the Goulash Place in Danbury).
Paul Improta August 30, 2012 at 12:13 PM
J.D. - Mexicali Rose is moving to Laurel Plaza on Rt6 in Stony Hill.
Ray Flanigan August 30, 2012 at 01:44 PM
I'm a Photo and frameshop owner for the last 11yrs in downtown Bethel. The utilities have about doubled, gas, food, and just about everything else has gone crazy. Doing enough business to pay the rent, CL&P, internet, etc can be a challenge, but making a decent living, hiring employees, and trying to advertise is an even greater challenge. I'm not a big fan of the Farmers Market or the sidewalk sales. I appreciate the effort by the Chamber and the First Selectman but I don't see a spike in business from people shopping at these events. The only ones profiting are the vendors who come here for three events a year and disappear after. I do think that the extra parking provided after tearing down the old Town Hall will provide a boost and relieve some of the parking pressures. I have a problem with Pizza Places opening across the street from other Pizza Places and your piece of the pie keeps shrinking, more planning and some courtesy to established businesses would be nice. I would have a problem if I owned a Jewelry shop and their were three vendors selling Jewelry during sidewalk sales and "Farmers Markets" "Shop Local" is easy to say, but try doing all your Holiday Shopping Locally and it will be difficult. Clothing Stores have a tough time making it in Downtown Bethel as their buying power can't compete with Bob's Store or the Mall. No easy answers and lots of questions.
Ann August 30, 2012 at 02:03 PM
Ray, great points and there is no easy answer :-< I do think if we can become a destination that would be a good thing. For instance, I heard there was once an article in the New York Times that Bethel was a great town to visit and people started taking the train on a Sunday but nothing was open so nothing became of that potential market. If we could develop clientele to come in on the train and tour downtown Bethel, that could help a lot. I disagree with one of the previous writers who indicated we have too many antique & thrift stores in town. A lot of these kinds of stores and quality gift shops are what attract the out of towners. If we had 10 antique stores and some great restaurants open all weekend we could attract people who want to come in on the train. The town area is very charming and quaint. We should be able to capitalize upon this.
Paul Improta August 30, 2012 at 03:00 PM
I do think that the Bicycle shop has contributed to bringing people to town who would otherwise have no reason to come. Bethel Cinema also brings people to town, though I'm not so sure how much these translate to business for other shops. The Blue Jay Orchard brings people to town on a seasonal basis. One problem I see is a lack of coordination between the various entities to promote the town and its shopping district. I think the town first has to be a destination. Do we have a festival; do we have a museum; do we have an old new England Inn with a fabulous Sunday Brunch? Autumn is a good time to tie together bicycling, apple picking, brunching, museum visiting, festival attending, and shop strolling, and if we had a golf course, golfing. Check out this website: www.essexct.com Surely we can take a page from this otherwise sleepy little town and do some advertising to attract not only shoppers but eventually shop owners. We need a theme, and we need a commitment from all the principals who would benefit. (Museum could be the Historical Society - what do they have in their building that we don't know about?)
Skip Clapp August 30, 2012 at 03:21 PM
I agree with Paul that we don't have the proper resources that are working in unison to enhance what we do have that visitors could take advantage of. Cyclists tend to come in, start their ride here and end here. Do we know that they have an impace on the adjacent eatery's? The theater is a great source of entertainment but I think Whitlocks is the only area business that might benefit from that. Some of us remember that Belthel could have had a great town recreation area with pool, tennis, golf, etc. It failed due to a great deal of pressure from out of town interests that came into Bethel and killed this project. I also believe that the committee looking into this while well intentioned didn't do their homework and were at a loss to provide some answers to questions. There are many of us who still think that this project would have well paid for itself and been a reala boon to the town.
Ann August 30, 2012 at 04:00 PM
Paul, great points. We would need to have a unified effort of establishments to appeal to out of towners on the weekends. They won't want to come for just a few places that are open. As Skip say, there is a historical society but I doubt it's open on weekends when most people would want to walk the town. I think I heard there is a clown exphibit (or was) in there :-) The cyclists are not big shoppers but I do know they frequent some restaurants like O'Neills. They would probably enjoy more outdoor eateries because they like to have their bikes closeby when they stop. Too bad about the recreation area -- I don't know anything about that. Sounded like an interesting project.
Paul Improta August 30, 2012 at 04:17 PM
The Town still owns hundreds of acres in Terre Haute, as well as about 80 acres in the newly purchased Frank Franc property.
Doug August 30, 2012 at 04:46 PM
A decent Army Navy store would be nice - a place that carried sneakers, uniforms for the kids sports, outdoorsy clothes. Also men's and women's clothiers would be nice too. Big problem is the stores are all failry small compared to the size need to pull something like that off. Don't get the part about how nice a Mexican restaurant would be, we had one and nobody went.
Doug August 30, 2012 at 04:47 PM
Should be interesting to see what happens when the out of town masses arrive to pick non existant apples this year.
Paula Antolini August 30, 2012 at 05:56 PM
Doug ....Blue Jay Orchards plans on getting apples from other farmers who did not lose their apple crop this year, so although they won't offer apple picking this year, customers will still be able to purchase apples at Blue Jay Orchards. Hayrides and pick your own pumpkins will still be available too, as well as many other varieties of food.
J.D. Hill August 30, 2012 at 11:46 PM
That's great news! A little closer :-)
Joe Nicoletti August 31, 2012 at 04:08 PM
Look on the bright side. Many places have apple picking, but how many have invisible apples?

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