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What's the Matter with Croton?

February 22, 2006

Why do Croton politicians always want to spend the people’s money on consultants when plain old common sense is all that’s needed? Never mind what’s the matter with Kansas, what’s the matter with our village? Let’s start by modifying an old saying: “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, hire consultants.”

Spending $10,000 for a consultant to advise this village on “ways to enhance the shopping experience” (see: “New Businesses Sought in Croton”) in Croton smacks more of Madison Avenue or Hollywood Boulevard than Grand Street. It’s not only empty campaign rhetoric, but wasteful of our tax dollars to boot. “Boutique” shops are surely not the answer. We’ve had little boutique shops up the wazoo—and they’ve all been unsuccessful. One doesn’t need a Ph.D. in market geography to understand the problem. It’s right there for all to see.

The principle reason for the succession of empty storefronts is the Croton Expressway. Intended to be part of a major expressway link from the Tappan Zee Bridge to the Beacon Bridge that would have bypassed every river town, it was the only section built, and bypassed Croton, Montrose and Buchanan. In Croton, it effectively destroyed the thriving section known as the Lower Village. The expressway was a boon to residents but a disaster for retailers. Nevertheless, other communities have survived such bypasses by shopping at local merchants. It’s a not-so-mysterious attribute called “community loyalty.”

For another reason why there are empty storefronts in Croton, look in a mirror. The culprit is you. It’s you who allowed a locally owned video store to go under by patronizing the aptly named Blockbuster giant. They certainly busted the block. Permanently. You jumped in your car and spent two dollars in gas to save a few cents on a light switch at Home Depot. But you could have bought one at Croton Hardware, and walked there to get it. You came home on the train from Grand Central with a cake from Zabars instead of supporting local business by buying one at a Croton bakery. Yes, you there looking in the mirror, you’re partly to blame.

Croton doesn’t have to spend ten thousand hard-to-come-by tax dollars to be told the obvious. There’s simply no way in the world to funnel the Expressway traffic through Croton once again. Increased community loyalty to Croton’s retailers may hold the only answer. It resides in your wallet or your purse.

Consultants’ advice in empty storefront situations is as predictable as the station parking lot’s flood tides: They will tell us to increase downtown parking space, virtually an impossibility in Croton. They will tell us to increase foot traffic by bringing in antiques stores, make Croton another Cold Spring. That’s easier said than done. They will also tell us the way to encourage new businesses is to offer monetary incentives. But reduced taxes benefit landlords, not renters.

Besides, it’s not government’s job in a free-enterprise system to put a thumb on the butcher’s scale by trying to manage the mix of businesses in a community or by giving breaks to one business over another. For a half-century, as a nation we engaged in a so-called “Cold War” with the Soviet Bloc to demonstrate the advantages of unmanaged free enterprise. Tinkering with the local economy like this makes those who suggest it sound like Kremlin commissars, and we all know what a mess they made of the Soviet Union.

And pie in the sky is expensive. If Croton decides it wants to try to encourage retail businesses to come to our village by offering incentives, these also should be extended to existing commercial enterprises. Remember, however, incentives cannot guarantee entrepreneurial success. And it is homeowners’ taxes that will have to take up the slack. Moreover, we may encourage new and possibly competing businesses—only to discover that we’ve inadvertently driven out existing businesses that were struggling to stay afloat.

There’s one ray of sunshine in an otherwise bleak picture. I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for promised alternate fuels and more fuel-efficient cars. The continuing high cost of gasoline may yet make us see the wisdom of shopping locally and witness the rebirth of local retail businesses.

— Robert Scott

On March 7, 2006 8:28 AM, crotonite said:

Interesting perspective. If we think that the saving grace will be local shoppers (my husband and I definitely agrees on this point), then perhaps we should take a survey of the community to figure out what services they would like to have and would commit to using in the Upper Village. Being a former resident of NYC, I think the lack of sidewalks makes it difficult to shop locally. I always thought Croton could use a family friendly restaurant, the diner just isn’t up to the quality of the other diners in the area.

On February 23, 2006 1:54 PM, Red Baron said:

After reading this article and the comments, it appears that the solution has already been posted. 25 birthday parties does not need to just support Wondrous Things…

Goods have traditionally been on the more expensive side in the community… Take a look at the high gas prices… A quick tour of Westchester County shows that Croton is near the top in prices… A quick trip to the hardware store is good for something quick, but large purchases have to be done in Cortlandt or elsewhere…

The answer may lie in providing more services… Why can’t all twenty five of those parties be here in Croton? Some at the bigger fire houses, etc… Some of the empty spaces could be used for other things…

Just my two cents…

On February 23, 2006 6:19 AM, Mr. Red said:

I wholeheartedly agree with you Robert and weewill. There is so much missed opportunity in Croton. There is no reason that we should not have a bakery or another “cozy” restaurant. I will admit that I voted for our current administration, however, what I expected to see was actual change in the village. Unfortunately, more shops are closing, political rhetoric is at an all time high and simple solutions (such as what Robert states) go ignored instead opting for more money wasted.

My wife and I have long looked into owning a business in town. Croton is an idyllic place. Take it from a long-time NYC resident. However, rents are high and we need loyalty from the community. Who wouldn’t want to wake up in the morning and go to a local shop to buy your goods? Or go out for a simple meal walking distance from home? Driving to Cortlandt Town Center is a complete drag and you need to slot in an hour to get something done.

I want to see some leadership in the village that will help support local folk who want to open a business and set the tone by shopping there themselves and create an atmosphere where we all support each other regardless of political affiliation.

Our mayor should get behind this since he has the good fortune of Crotonites going to his office for a much needed adjustment.

Our governement needs a wake up call. Stop the madness and put the $10,000 to better use. Otherwise, beware the ides of March (or thereabouts).

On February 22, 2006 2:58 PM, weewill said:

Well said Robert Scott. Crisp and directly to the point.

To support your local merchants is to support your community. I’ve said it many times before and will repeat it once again. There are probably 20 or 25 children’s birthday parties on any given Saturday in Croton. That means that Wondrous Things should sell 20 or 25 children’s birthday presents. Sweet and simple.

We don’t need to study and talk this concept to death. It’s clear and self-evident!



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