URBAN SPARKS HOPE AMONG STORE OWNERS

urban-watchers2An unidentified Urban Outfitters employee checks out a window display as a pair of passersby does the same Tuesday night.

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Two young women rounded the corner of Broad Street Monday night and headed left on West Front Street, their eyes fixed on a retail medley going on behind the tall glass windows.

The twentysomethings behind the glass were putting the finishing touches on display racks and examining the trendy looks of mannequins that just days ago lined the store’s inner perimeter as nothing more than nondescript plastic molds.

“I’m so excited for you, Urban Outfitters,” said one of the women as she looked into the window before disappearing from West Front’s sidewalk.

Given the Philadelphia-based giant’s international success, it’s no surprise there might be consumers chomping at the bit for Urban to open it’s doors to the public on Thursday. But on the periphery of Urban Outfitters’ enchanting mass of real estate at 2-10 Broad Street, there’s a contingent that can match the public’s excitement and trump it with hope — Red Bank’s small business owners.

surf-burger
Diane Halligan, owner of Surf Burger, is one of many optimists hoping the mega-retailer Urban Outfitters brings more business to the area. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi)

The evidence of that is right next door, at Surf Burger the restaurant Diane Halligan opened up in July in the space most recently used by Zuleyka’s Kitchen. Renovation work on the Urban space, particularly the scaffolding, brought her young business to its knees late in the summer and into fall because, she says, nobody could see it was there. She and her business partner have been waiting a long time for Thursday to come, and she can almost hear the foot traffic they expect Urban will generate for them.

“I figure after they’re done shopping they’re going to be hungry and want that juicy burger,” Halligan said. “Me and my partner are very, very hopeful.”

After months of near-invisibility, during which workers sand-blasted paint off brick and hauled furniture and merchandise in and out of the store, she’s ready for payback.

“I’m waiting it out, so I’m hoping I’m going to be rewarded,” she said.

Across the street at 4B, a clothing, shoe and accessory store, owner Mimi James said she’s heard from Urban Outfitters employees that there could be anywhere between 300 and 500 customers revolving through its doors per day. Even if she gets a small percentage of those customers to check out her store, there’s no doubt that Urban will be a boon, she said.

“I hope they’re right. That’s a lot of foot traffic for us here in Red Bank,” James said.

James isn’t worried that the retail monolith will steal away business from her, either. She appeals to a slightly different kind of customer, she said, but also has a faithful customer base. So she thinks that while a mother takes her daughter shopping at Urban Outfitters, the mother will be more inclined to stop over at 4B, and she welcomes the downtown’s newest retail tenant.

“I can’t tell you how excited we are,” she said. “It’s going to add a completely different energy to the town that I don’t think Red Bank has really ever seen.”

The excitement for a local stimulus from Urban Outfitters extends beyond immediate area, though.

Mr. Pizza Slice owner Steve Napolitani said he’s not concerned with Urban Outfitters as a company so much as he is about it injecting a little more life into the town where he has run his business for 40 years.

“I’m all for anything that comes into town as long as they don’t sell food,” he said. “It’s better than a vacant building.”

In the last couple of months, passersby have witnessed the space on the corner morph from an empty eyesore to a vibrant, potential cornerstone of the downtown. The signs in the windows Monday night plugged the store’s opening celebration Thursday, which will feature live music from 6p to 9p.

Halligan, like the two young women who gazed into Urban’s window Monday night, see something to look forward to at the corner of Broad and West Front streets.

“Look at this whole strip here. It’s like a ghost town,” Halligan said, pointing in the direction of West Front Street. “So, one by one, I see people looking into the stores now, looking to rent. It’s going to be a great thing for Red Bank.”