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