RED BANK RENEWS PUSH FOR LATE CLOSINGS

rb-late-nightBars and restaurants are doing their job keeping doors open late, some say, but more merchants must stay open to attract more visitors. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

As Red Bank continues to claw its way out of an economic hole it hasn’t seen since the we-don’t-like-to-talk-about-it Dead Bank days, Mayor Pasquale Menna tends to periodically jab downtown’s retailers with a reminder that it’s going to take work to bring Red Bank back as a top destination in the region and beyond.

Lately, though, he’s taken a firmer approach.

At a council meeting last month, when two requests for car shows on Broad Street appeared on the agenda, he paused from the typical rubber-stamping of such requests.

“This is a chance to tickle, pinch, smack our retailers to stay open on Sunday,” Menna said, and then pointed to Red Bank RiverCenter Executive Director Nancy Adams, who was seated in the audience. “Get the word out. Tell them to stay open on Sunday. I might start smacking instead of pinching.”

It was another lash at a limp horse he’s been flogging since before Red Bank’s business dipped with the national economy. For years, Menna has been urging merchants to move away from the nine-to-five mindset and keep the lights on after dark and on Sunday, when too many stores, he says, are closed.

Some brights spots have emerged recently. Blue Water Seafood is catering to later crowds coming in from other towns or getting off work late. And Ken Kalada, owner of Yestercades, a retro arcade shop he plans to open soon on Broad Street, says he’ll stay open until 2 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. But there are few other other after-hours draws for visitors.

Stealing a line from a neighboring merchant, George Lyristis, owner of The Bistro at Red Bank and Teak, said, “If you’re open from nine to five, you’re basically working for the unemployed.”

These days, most who have money to spend are tied up during the day with work, and don’t have a chance to get into town until the parking meters turn off at 6 p.m., Menna agreed.

“I think Red Bank’s future, definitely, whether they like it or not, is that the retailers and the restaurants will stay open late to cater to the business that’s coming in,” he said.

Still, merchants say Red Bank’s not yet able to sustain itself on late traffic. Owners have long carped that they’d lose money extending their hours, and some say they’ve tried it to no benefit.

Danny Weinberg, owner and sole employee of Hip and Humble Home, a Broad Street furniture store, says that in the six months he’s been here, he hasn’t seen enough foot traffic to justify hours later than 7 p.m., when he typically closes. On a Saturday, or when there’s a big event like Riverfest, which he said was “jumping,” it’s worth it.

But “not any other day,” he said. “If I had to pay somebody $150 a night, it wouldn’t be worth it.”

There was a brief period when Jennifer Quinn Payne kept her children’s clothing boutique, T. Berry Square, open until about 9 or 10. But the effort didn’t attract enough customers to cover the cost of the energy bills of staying open later.

Now, she keeps the lights in her store in until midnight for anybody passing by at night to let them know she’s there. It’s cheaper, she said, and if a couple has their interest piqued by what’s in the window, they may consider returning during the day.

The borough has taken steps to attract more business after dark, Menna said.

Last month, it introduced valet parking to the downtown, which runs until 2 a.m. on the weekends. Plans are still being developed to offer rooftop dining, he said, an initiative practically unseen anywhere else but New York City.

And fighting against the rising popularity of Shore destination competitors Asbury Park and Pier Village in Long Branch, a group of restaurateurs have launched an independent marketing campaign, dubbed Red Bank Flavour, touting the downtown as the place to be, both for food and culture.

With places like The Downtown, red, The Dublin House and Jamian’s already established as draws, the onus is on fellow merchants to keep visitors in town, Lyristis said.

“It’s not us,” Lyristis said of the restaurants and bars. “It’s us bringing them in, and there’s nothing for them to do once they’re in here.”

On any given night, you’re apt to see just a few non-restaurants open while diners are taking seats. Funk & Standard is regularly open until 11 p.m. on weekends; Urban Outfitters is open until 10 p.m. Both close at 8 on Sundays. Coco Pari stays open until 9 during the week, and 11 on weekends.

Beyond that, though, ‘closed’ signs hang in windows on Sunday nights and most weekday evenings after 7 or 8.

With Lyristis and company’s new marketing venture, as well as some new ideas at Teak, the hope is that the mindset will soon change, he said.

“That’s what we need to do. We need to force the merchants to stay open later during the week by doing more during the week,” Lyristis said.

There’s no shortage of reasons to come into town if you’re looking for a drink or a place to eat.

The recent additions of Pazzo on West Front Street, Surf Taco on Broad Street and Blue Water Seafood have infused new life into the downtown. Blue Water, in particular, is going above and beyond what anybody else is doing by shuttling any idea of set hours.

Owner Jimmy Vastardis said he’ll stay open until the demand dictates he lock up for the night. On weekdays, diners can grab a seat at 10 p.m. with no problem. On weekends, sitting down at midnight isn’t out of the question, either. If Blue Water, which opened in May, keeps its doors open later, maybe others will consider doing the same, he said.

“I believe everyone should stay open late because it’s better for the town,” he said. “Once people realize they can come in at 9:30 and be seated, it’ll help everybody, especially this time of year.”

Will it catch on, though, and, more importantly, will it help spring Red Bank back as a draw no matter what time it is?

“I think it could when the public knows there’s choices, when there’s more retail and restaurants open,” Vastardis said. “There’s no reason Red Bank shouldn’t be open late.”

This article was written in August, before Dustin Racioppi left redbankgreen to join the Asbury Park Press.