Seeking to Support Main Street

Posted on 18 December 2008

An update on proposed changes to the Sag Harbor Village code evolved on Sunday into a discussion about how the village’s businesses can best market themselves, during Save Sag Harbor’s community meeting at the Old Whalers Church.

Save Sag Harbor, which has organized a campaign urging residents and visitors to “Shop Locally” and has also brought representatives from the National Trust here to talk about opportunities to make the village more appealing for visitors, has been following the village’s development of its code revisions, with an eye toward protecting the Main Street character.

The code is preparing to go into a State Environmental Quality Review, attorney Jeff Bragman told the 40 or so members of the community who attended the meeting. Bragman has been hired by Save Sag Harbor to review the code for its membership.

Bragman was generally bullish on the code, saying it had the “look, feel and structure” of a modern planning document.

“I think it’s important that this revision go through,” Bragman said. “This village has a history of cronyism and poor environmental review. This is a dramatic step forward.”

The proposed revisions, however, have suffered some criticism, notably from the Sag Harbor Business Association, which has said the changes will create too restrictive an environment and will limit what property owners can do with their commercial buildings.

“I know there’s a lot of talk about the economy, but that is not a rational cause for not accepting the code,” said Bragman. “Zoning is the bedrock of this village. It is charming, it is preserved, it is one of the last real Main Streets on the East End.”

The changes, Bragman maintained, will in fact enhance people’s interest in investing in the village.

Renee Shafransky asked if there could be legislation that would prevent big corporate stores from coming into the village.

“It’s tricky,” conceded Bragman. The safer way would be to include certain prohibitions that would be the same for all business types, designing some of those to address what is harmful about formula stores.

“Can you enumerate what you don’t like in formula stores and weave that into the legislation,” observed Bragman. “The new code as it is written has defensible language that restricts signage, for example.”

Michael Eicke, a member of the Business Association, was critical of the efforts SSH has made in reaching out to the business community.

“I’m concerned that you never really contacted us, the business people,” said Eicke. “I thought you would have gone shop to shop asking them what their idea of the future is.”

“We met with many businesses and the Business Association several times,” countered SSG board member Susan Mead.

“We did bring in the National Trust, which was meant as a bold step forward, to get the community to think in a big way what can be done,” said SSH board member Jayne Young. “I personally visited half the stores on Main Street.”

Frank D’Angelo, owner of Emporium Hardware, noted that when the group urges residents to “Shop Locally,” they are preaching to the converted. He agreed that some of the businesses could use “a little help” and questioned the code’s restriction requiring stores be less than 8,000 square feet.

“That’s a lot of building in Sag Harbor,” observed Bragman.

“No it’s not,” urged D’Angelo, who said the building that currently houses 7-Eleven and other stores could become an anchor grocery store that would attract people to the village consistently.

“There are a lot of people who do their shopping out of the area,” said D’Angelo.

SSH President Mia Grosjean said the group is making an effort to communicate with the business community and that they are willing to help coordinate marketing ideas for the village to get customers to Main Street now.

To that end, Mead suggested her group contact the approximately 1700 people in their email list to find a marketing expert who could work with Save Sag Harbor and the business community, to promote the idea of the value of shopping in Sag Harbor.

“Part of it is perception,” observed SSH board member April Gornik. “There are a lot of wealthy people but this is truly a very diverse business community. The perception in America is that if you don’t get your stuff at Wal-Mart you’re getting ripped off.”

At top, attorney Jeff Bragman encourages members of Save Sag Harbor to support revisions to the village’s zoning code.


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