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Port Washington works to keep Main Street thriving
Mariann Dalimonte lives just a short drive from two major malls, but the Port Washington native prefers to buy her children’s shoes at Gail’s Stride Rite on Main Street.
“We’d rather go local before we go outside of town,” said Dalimonte, director of development for Residents for a More Beautiful Port Washington.
‘Mom and Pop’ shops around the country have been struggling for decades to compete with big box stores and malls, but in Port Washington, many of these small businesses are still thriving because of a collective effort by merchants, elected officials and residents to shop local.
For instance, Dalimonte’s organization has partnered with local businesses so members receive discounts at certain Port Washington stores. The group maintains the tree beds and community parks throughout the business district. In the winter, they also host an event on Main Street called “Port Holiday Magic” to encourage residents to do their holiday shopping locally.
There are some vacant stores on Main Street and Port Washington Boulevard, but they are the exception, not the norm.
“It’s at a healthy level,” said Warren Schein, co-president of the Port Washington Chamber of Commerce, of the number of empty storefronts.
Schein knows first hand, though, how hard it can be to run a successful small business. He used to own a Buster Brown shoe store on Main Street, but gradually saw his customers dwindle when bigger stores opened nearby. Schein was among the chamber members who vehemently campaigned and worked with officials in the town, village and state government to form the Greater Port Washington Business Improvement District, New York’s first inter-municipal BID, in 1995.
The BID taxes commercial properties on Main Street, Shore Road, Manorhaven Boulevard and Port Washington Boulevard, but uses the money for street-scaping projects. Since it’s a 501c3, it also acquires grant money, which it provides to local businesses to offset the costs of replacing their awnings, signs and other facade work.
North Hempstead Town Councilwoman Dina De Giorgio, a 17-year Port Washington resident, also works closely with the BID, the chamber and local merchants. When the shop owners told her that the one-hour parking meters on Main Street were hurting their businesses, she was able to change most of them to two-hour time limits. (Another public hearing will be held later this spring to decide if the remaining meters on upper Main Street should be changed, as well.)
“If you want to park and be able to shop on Main Street, have lunch or get your haircut, an hour isn’t enough time,” she said. “They [business owners] live it everyday, so they know what will make it better.”
De Giorgio said she also wants to work with commercial property owners and landlords to identify what types of businesses would be successful in Port Washington and encourage them to move to the community.
“The public is asking for more retail,” she said, adding that at the present time, there is no men’s clothing store or a unisex children’s clothing store in town.
“A lot of people I know would love to be able to shop in Port Washington if they could get what they needed here,” she said.