By JOHN T. WARD
When officials from Greene Street Consignment, a high-end used-clothing shop with seven stores in the greater Philadelphia area, paid her a visit about a month ago, Red Bank RiverCenter executive director Nancy Adams’ immediate reaction, she later said, was, “We’ve gotta get you here. We need retail.”
And with some fast action, Adams helped do just that, in the process heading off what might have been a prolonged and gaping vacancy in the heart of a downtown still struggling to recover.
What she didn’t know, though, was that building owner Steve Calandrino was on the verge of a lease-signing with a restaurant.
Yes, another restaurant, in a town vaunted for its eateries, but one in which nearly every kitchen manager is beginning to groan, loudly, over having to divide the pie into yet more and thinner slices.
A restaurant at 40 Broad would also likely have meant months of papered-over windows at that address, as the business went through design, approval and build-out, Adams said. That’s assuming it could even win approval from the town zoning board for a conversion to a food use from a non-food use.
A long interval of darkened windows there “would have been demoralizing,” Adams said.
Adams intercepted Calandrino just in time. He was “about a day away” from signing with the restaurant, he told redbankgreen. “It was very tight.”
But bringing in Greene Street, with its concept and track record, presented “the path of least resistance,” he said. Retail-to-retail? No brainer.
Not that landing a restaurant would have been impossible. Calandrino, who has owned the building for about seven years, said it was once home to a Chinese restaurant. But winning an OK for a restaurant, “would have been a much more complicated process,” he said.
Still, Greene Street had its own regulatory hurdle to clear. A local ordinance bars consignment shops in the zone in which the building is located, a vestige of changes aimed at reviving ‘Dead Bank’ from its postwar economic lows in the 1990s.
Last Thursday night, however, owner Lynne Mastrilli persuaded the borough zoning board that the old stigma against consignment was misplaced as it pertained to her business, which she said specializes in “mid-range brand labels” such as J. Crew, Abercrombie & Fitch and Eileen Fisher. Her stores – one of which is on tony Nassau Street in the heart of Princeton – carry women’s and men’s clothing that’s in “perfect condition,” Mastrilli said.
With Adams sitting in the audience, the board gave Greene Street a unanimous green light. Mastrilli said the store should be ready to open by September 15. In fact, the store’s manager has rented one of the three apartments above the store.
Adams, meanwhile, said she’s “just thrilled” that Greene Street will be coming to town. While RiverCenter has no official policy putting the brakes on new restaurants coming into the district it promotes, it does look to having the right mix of retail, restaurants and daytime offices, she said.
Besides, “we prefer not to change too many retail spaces to food use because it’s so hard to change back.”
Funk and Standard plans to reopen below-ground at 7 Broad.