Categorized | Point Of View

Access and Collaboration Required

Posted on 09 March 2012

By Richard Demato

Your intent, efforts, and reach to the community and subsequent wide response to “The Future of Sag Harbor,” was highly comprehensive and informative. It offered  both an analytical and emotional assimilation of data that will initiate and empower creative thought on the subject for some time to come.

A successful business is a constantly evolving living mix of many things, including, but not limited to, quality, originality, location, timing, access, price, costs, trained and willing staff, and marketing. I also ascribe to the rule of “good luck” being “persistence meeting and grasping opportunity.” We saw the “for rent” sign and immediately rented the space. Our landlord loves the village, we recognize and share his passion, and enjoy a mutual opportunity to bring a unique creative element to the Village that would otherwise not exist for us, or the Village.

What can we change and improve, as rents rise in a fixed physical environment with defined space sizes, and newly established laws to help “Save Sag Harbor?”  As the defined space becomes smaller, the ascent and rate of rent becomes higher and faster. We can all strive to engage and train the best staff we can obtain. Many have been forced to seek and engage trained people from further up Island. It is not the optimum desired choice, for a myriad of reasons, but a necessity with the current labor force available. But it brings more vehicles, to an already strained parking debacle; which further limits acceptable business access.

We should not assume that simply by limiting business square footage, to smaller footprints, that we can retain the independent business mix many seek to maintain and nurture.  We need to recognize and discuss the opportunity of marketing, branding, and advertising that this offers larger chains.   The increase of smaller store units, which by definition brings higher rent, does NOT have importance to larger firms seeking branding.  It actually provides them an opportunity, a form of less expensive advertising, and ultimately sales, as local “independent” business owners cannot compete and will fail, with their strategic ability to pay more, to get less, and to build their anchor and brand it within this local environment.

John Nolan is quite correct, “you cannot use zoning to protect businesses from competition.” In fact, I believe you are more vulnerable and ultimately will hasten their demise. Hal Zwick aptly pointed out, in talking of chains, they perceive “our like retailers, are not there”, and that’s why ultimately, like water, it is exactly where they will flow, to Sag Harbor. They will fill the void and utilize the opportunity. We should not continue to make it so easy for them!

Many contributors acknowledged the requirement of quality, on it’s own, and as an underlying principal to bring success. Consumers, regardless of our independent business focus or costs, demand and expect quality to “at least” remain the same, if not improve. As David Brogna astutely stated, “It has to be the first resort.” However, it is not only the consumer or business that can define what survives, or not. We must provide consumers easier access and quickly improve our current parking issues.

Timing has been well discussed and it seems generally agreed there is a significantly more amount of business done in the summer season, when there are more visitors, residents, tourists, and the large boats that make Sag Harbor so unique among the Hamptons. However, it brings yet more automobiles,

Globally, small villages and towns have created innovative and attractive “green” parking structures, which pay for themselves over time, and are funded many ways, including through the sale of interest bearing bonds. In this time of low interest, our creativity and imagination are our only limitation.

We’ve seen shifts in small villages from Germany, to the streets of South Beach, Florida, to Montego Bay, Jamaica. They, and many others, have redefined and innovatively improved access. Parking structures are no longer unsightly buildings, but can actually be extremely “green”, enhance the environment, and raise significant revenue for a village, as you shift and IMPROVE access to the business’s you seek to save. Many storeowners on Main Street have clients complaining, they wanted to stop in, but were pressed for time, and simply could not find a spot.

We would prefer and propose to pay a daily fixed fee, as business owners, and subsidize our employee’s costs, rather than paying the numerous parking tickets we accrued and paid for our clients, and staff, in 2011. If we’re not at the lots by 8-9AM, there are no “all day” parking spots. On another note, where in Sag Harbor can any handicapped individual park, and how many accessible all day spots are available to them, to facilitate them working a full day in the Village, without being required to move their car every two hours? It’s simply unacceptable, if it’s even legal.

What if the Village offered businesses the option of purchasing “HARDSHIP” stickers for owners and employees only, to extend their parking rights OFF Main Street locations? It will raise and provide the Village continuity of additional revenue and save us closing a business, to keep shuttling our cars, or simply paying tickets, which we had to do, while working with clients in the gallery throughout 2011.

Time is a commodity money cannot buy, once its lost, it is gone.  It should not be consumed searching for a parking spot. We can change that, save time, diminish stress, extend their shopping and spending, and make it a significantly more PLEASURABLE experience!  We have an obligation to facilitate and improve access, in less time, and not have customers circling Main Street looking for a space to spend money in our Village, or simply are encouraged to leave and buy elsewhere.

There is an enormous advantage and distinction for businesses that are fortunate enough to be the owners of their own buildings.  They make money via the enhanced value of the building, over time, regardless of how much business they can achieve.  They earned and deserve that!  But, the Village will lose business diversity, if all of the “independent” non-building owners are forced out, to others that can afford to view the high rents as a simply a marketing and advertising expense.

I must say, from my own experience with non-profits, The Retreat, among others, that contributions from the general public and government have become more difficult to obtain, so I do not see how the public or the government can be called upon to subsidize the lack of access or other issues we face, unless we offer a return for their investment in our near mutual future. One secret to the survival and success, with the non-profits we serve, has been our transparent willingness to share and work aside other non-profits to achieve our mutual goals. That collaborative synergy provides us strength and is the future for our survival.

We sought to unify Galleries to establish a common calendar timing of our openings, or “Art Walks”, as they are called in Miami, LA, Savannah, and elsewhere. Robert Evjen and Benito were helpful, but unfortunately we were not as successful with the galleries, yet, but will revisit this again shortly. This would establish Sag Harbor as a destination on a more weekday and annual basis, which supports the other businesses, especially the restaurants, that both employ so many and serve us all. The article identified auxiliary business owners with the same hope and vision, wherein we would all benefit from a more strategic symbiotic relationship.

Cashing out of Sag Harbor was often mentioned in the article. Please note, that as our property taxes continue to aggressively go up, our actual property equity values will certainly plummet, and initiate another exodus of homeowners unable to pay their new increasing tax bills.  One only needs to look at Westchester, and the numerous North-shore Up-Island communities to see the reality and history of that.

There are many valuable and creative contributors in the effort and article put forth, by your paper, but unless we seek to work unselfishly, and collaboratively, in union, we will not prevent the inevitable that the majority of us philathropists seem to not desire or see in our future.


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