In the 1970s, fire destroyed several downtown Babylon village anchor stores; and new supermarkets and shopping malls in surrounding communities also seared the customer base.
Now, the shoppers are back. The downtown business district is near full occupancy with shops at ground level and a smattering of offices and rental apartments above. In fact, so many restaurants have opened in recent years that the village has imposed a moratorium.
"This is a village that really is working," said David Calone, Suffolk County Planning Commission chairman and Babylon village resident, after a tour Wednesday with other commission members and Mayor Ralph Scordino. "It shows what's possible for the rest of the county."
The planning commission, which establishes land use priorities for the county and serves as a policy resource for municipalities, held up the village Wednesday as an example of what similar municipalities might become.
The commission began holding monthly meetings and walking tours in villages and towns throughout the county three years ago to highlight such successful initiatives.
Babylon's success, Calone said, is a product of a few key factors: a critical sewage system that permits high-density development, a nearby Long Island Rail Road station with parking for commuters and a powerful "sense of place" enforced by historical assets such as the 19th-century Conklin House.
Wednesday's tour began at Village Hall and stopped at the Village Museum, newly opened Monsoon restaurant and the Conklin House, not far from the LIRR station and across the street from Village Commons, where condominiums sell in the mid $300,000s. "A great example of transit housing," Calone said.
This being a tour for planners, little time was spent outside the new chocolatier's shop; more time was devoted to the alleys connecting new municipal parking lots to the main shopping streets, with paved paths leading to 400 new parking spots, Scordino said.
Afterward, Calone said he hoped Babylon's "cool" factor would spread. "It helps us fight that brain drain that everybody keeps talking about," he said.