RED BANK TO BIZ OWNERS: STAY OPEN LATER

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Some merchants think too many downtown stores are closed at night. This photo was taken late Tuesday morning. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Red Bank Mayor Pasquale Menna has ramped up his campaign get downtown business owners to stay open later.

He says the effort did not begin with last week’s Broad Street debut of Urban Outfitters — a clothing and housewares store that’s open from 11a to 9p Monday through Saturday and 11a to 8p on Sundays. But Urban is doing business the right way, Menna says, and he’d like to see more merchants follow suit.

“Retailing has changed, our society has changed and Red Bank is changing,” he said.

Given Red Bank’s amenities, with its bevy of late-night hot spots like bars and entertainment venues, it has always made more sense that many businesses, especially retailers, keep the lights on and the doors open after dark and on Sundays, Menna says.

But examples of missed opportunities to hook visitors are plentiful, he says citing two from last summer, when the Red Bank Jazz & Blues Festival, and later the Taste of Red Bank, drew thousands of visitors who found limited shopping options because stores weren’t open later or on Sunday.

“The businesses that succeed are the ones who are available when people are on the street,” Menna said. “We don’t have the luxury of shoppers out at nine in the morning. It’s a change in our society and sometimes we have to change our business model to keep our competitive edge.”

Menna was beating the drum for later hours at this week’s bimonthly borough council meeting, when he said that Urban’s hours constitute “a message to other stores to please, please stay open at night.”

Naturally, there’s resistance from some of the businesses in the heart of downtown, with owners and managers saying that later hours haven’t, or won’t, make much a difference to their business.

Broad Street’s comic and memorabilia shop, Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash, is among the naysayers.

“We’ve tried it before. It didn’t work for us,” said Michael Zapcic, a clerk. And he doubts that the presence of Urban Outfitters will increase the number of shoppers at Secret Stash. “It’ll make no difference to us. They have a certain clientele and might coincide with ours a little bit. We will open earlier or (stay open) a little later, but they usually get here between ten and six.”

It’s the same story at No Joe’s Cafe, which, up until a few weeks ago stayed open until about 9p during the week, said the shop’s manager, Paul Cali. But he didn’t see the benefit of it, and now it’s open until 6:30p during the week and closes at 4p on Sundays.

Cali expects that Urban will surely increase foot traffic into other shops in the area, but, he said, “I don’t think it will make a huge difference.” Besides, across the street from No Joe’s is Funk and Standard, which actually has later hours than Urban.

Funk and Standard has been open late for years and it didn’t make much of a difference,” Cali said.

Funk and Standard owner Patti Siciliano disagrees with the notion that greater participation in the open-late effort  won’t stir downtown’s economy. Like Menna, she’s an advocate for more businesses keeping later hours, even if it means opening up later in the day.

“The reality is that people have to stay open,” she said. “People come here for pleasure. This is a leisure town. If people stayed open it would be like Saturday night every night.”

Red Bank RiverCenter Executive Director Nancy Adams said that since Urban opened on November 19, it’s time for the local business owners to reconsider their hours. While she understands that it doesn’t fit every business, nor is it feasible for an especially small-staffed one, it can’t hurt now that the retail giant is open on the corner of Broad and West Front streets.

“If, in fact, Urban Outfitters proves to bring that type of customer base, hopefully they’ll make that adjustment,” she said. “It can’t have anything but a positive impact to businesses and potential customers.”

There’s nothing the borough council or RiverCenter can do, though, but push, shout or otherwise prod the business owners to stay open later. In Menna and Adams’ eyes, doing so is a prudent business move that, at the very least, is worth a shot at this point in time.

“Somebody can’t shop if they can’t walk in the door,” Menna said.