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.