METER RUNS OUT FOR TOY STORE

BroadvacanciesMark Ginsberg, below right, will close his Art of Play store on Sunday, adding a vacancy next to the space that was home to the short-lived Nibus clothing store.

After yearning most of last year for foot traffic into his toy and game store, Mark Ginsberg saw evidence of a spending surge as Christmas approached.

Ginsberg, markHe wasn’t fooled. He knew the faces, the tastes and the budgets. These were what in the past might be called “loyal customers,” he says, except for the fact that, eleven months of the year, many of them want nothing to do with the hassle of shopping in downtown Red Bank.

“I have the customer base,” Ginsberg tells redbankgreen. “But after they finished shopping, they’d say, ‘OK, see you next year!'”

Well, Ginsberg can no longer hold on until next year. This weekend, he’s closing his Broad Street shop, Art of Play. And more than anything else, he says parking enforcement is to blame.

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Ginsberg wants it understood that he is not down on Red Bank. In fact, after having had his store at two different Broad Street addresses, he’s now hoping to find new space in the business district, something priced in the $20 per square foot range for 500SF. That’s about half the space he has now.

So far, no luck, though.
The former Asher Neiman gallery on Monmouth Street, he says, is ideally priced, but too big,
at 1,700 SF.

But most other landlords are refusing to budge on rents, despite the economic downturn that has helped push the number of vacancies to about 40 in the business district, or about 10 percent of the total, according to Red Bank RiverCenter executive director Nancy Adams. Ginsberg says one landlord is
still asking the $28SF he demanded
three years ago.

But what’s driving him out more than anything, Ginsberg says, is parking enforcement. Those $38 overtime parking violations have simply got to go, he says, because they are infuriating shoppers and making a difficult economic situation untenable.

“I have all the customers I need,” he says. “But they say they won’t come into town to see me. I hate to sound like a broken record, but I’ve seen my customer base driven out of town.”

The borough’s parking utility last year generated income of $896,000 last year. In the coming fiscal year, the take is projected to slide to $830,000, according to budget figures released earlier this week. Yet the utility is expected to generate a $100,000 surplus available to offset taxes, the same sum as this year. Download Budget_introduced_2009.

Those figures don’t include the ticket revenue, which is administered by the court.

Ginsberg’s solution to the parking problem: make the White Street lot an attended one, so that customers pay on the way in or out for the time they use.

RiverCenter would like to see some relief, too, in the form of a parking garage, says Adams. It’s a long-held position, one that has seemingly divided the electorate. But the organization wouldn’t cry if the meters were done away with as a stopgap.

She acknowledges that meter-less streets come with their own downsides,
starting with employees who hog spaces best left available to shoppers.

Still, “I’d love to see it happen, but I don’t think we will,” says Adams. “We’ve asked [the mayor and council] for the moon, and are grateful for whatever relief we can get.”

The most recent relief was an ordinance amendment, introduced this week, to standardize the number of spaces businesses must provide while eliminating red tape for changes of use. Here’s the ordinance: 2009-10 

Ginsberg, meantime, is getting ready to lock up for the last time on Sunday. After that, customers can find his merchandise online at PlushPlanet.

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