Carle Place is garnering new attention, with town and civic leaders sprucing up the community and pushing for development they say could help shed the one-square-mile hamlet's reputation as a struggling business district.
Officials said Westbury Avenue, the main thoroughfare, is overshadowed to the east by Post Avenue, a revitalized corridor in Westbury Village, and to the south, by large retail centers such as Roosevelt Field mall in Garden City.
"We're kind of sandwiched in the middle of things," said John Hommel, president of the Carle Place Civic Association.
Although new businesses such as hair salons, creameries, and pubs have opened along Westbury Avenue, just a couple blocks from the Long Island Rail Road station, merchants say several vacant storefronts are uninviting and hinder the area from reaching its potential. Town officials said they have issued code violations to "about a dozen" business owners this month for property maintenance violations such as overgrown vegetation, piled up garbage and unmended fences.
The business corridor is "struggling with bright spots," said Eric Alexander, director of the smart growth nonprofit Vision Long Island, based in Northport.
Hommel said that while the hamlet "can't compete with some of the larger things that are going on around us, we'd like to see a little more local flavor and attract some small shops and cafes."
Samantha Shea, 30, a co-owner of the Studio Novelle hair salon that opened two years ago on Westbury Avenue, said the potential for the commercial strip is large.
"It's so centrally located, we get clients from all over," she said. But blocks away, Shea said, are "a lot of vacant places; other merchants would like to see that spruced up."
Kim Kaiman, executive director of the North Hempstead Business and Tourism Development Corp., said the town has taken steps to beautify the area, affixing about 100 flags to lampposts along Westbury Avenue before the Independence Day holiday.
Alexander said the key is attracting more two-story developments, and more shops, cafes, and niche retail stores so the area resembles "more of a neighborhood retail feel, not a big downtown."
"It doesn't have to look the way it does now," he said.
Nassau Legis. Laura Schaefer (R-Westbury), who represents the area, said she has applied for county funding from community revitalization projects. Possible projects include repaving Westbury Avenue and streetscape enhancements such as benches or plantings.
Experts caution there is no one solution for revitalizing Main Streets, and Carle Place should find its own identity.
"Hopefully we can be our own little small town America," Hommel said, envisioning "smaller types of restaurants, where people can go after" they've gone to the malls or to The Space, a $10 million performing arts center that opened in September in Westbury.
But for now, "it's such a sleepy town that people literally go home," said Frank Signorello, who has owned The Hollow Creamery ice cream parlor on Westbury Avenue for two years. "They don't stop. They keep on going."