Exploring Oceanside’s storefront vacancy problem

Where did it come from, and can it be fixed?


“Oceanside isn’t exactly thriving,” said architect Dov Hadas, of Valley Stream. He listed what he believed are the sources of Oceanside’s commercial woes — poorly located municipal parking, and Town of Hempstead zoning and management problems leading to empty storefronts.

The empty stores have been the focus of complaints by Oceanside’s community Facebook groups. One boarded-up property, at 3303 Long Beach Road, was described as a “ghetto-looking eyesore.”

Keith Senko, a commercial real estate agent and property manager at Worth Property Management, whose phone number was listed on the building’s “Available for Lease” sign, said the property was being renovated, but in the past it has been a struggle to find tenants for such properties because of a lack of parking.

“Parking in general is a big factor for businesses,” Senko explained, because potential customers are likely to be drivers. Other factors, he added, were the slow permitting process — it took four months for the town to issue permits for the Long Beach Road property’s current renovations — and the rise of online shopping. “It’s hard to compete,” Senko said.

The parking requirements — which mandate that a property have a certain number of spaces per square foot of store interior — are a key issue for developers who consider constructing new commercial buildings in Oceanside, according to Hadas. They can apply for a variance from the Town of Hempstead Zoning Board of Appeals, which would grant them exceptions to the parking regulations, but Hadas said these are often denied.

One way to fix the problem, Hadas said, would be to build more municipal parking lots. When developers seek variances, they can count nearby lots toward their parking requirements in applications, increasing the chance of approval. Less space required for parking, he said, would allow for more store space.

But there continue to be vacant storefronts even in places with an abundance of parking. Lincoln Plaza, at Long Beach Road and Atlantic Avenue, has four vacant properties side by side. The managers of businesses surrounding them say that they have not hurt their shops.

Hadas pointed to the Sands Shopping Center, at Long Beach Road and Mott Street, which he called “the shining example of success,” as a model for what a thriving commercial area could look like.

He said that the Sands’ businesses and large parking lot invite people to spend more time and shop in more stores than other areas. “You pass by other stores and decide you want to stop in,” he explained. The Starbucks, he said, allows people to take a break from their shopping, and lets them turn an errand into an experience.

Another problem, according to Hadas, is that Oceanside’s commercial areas are based on a half-century-old model he called the “bedroom community.” With the rise of suburbs on Long Island after World War II, the idea was that people would work in the city and sleep and raise their families on the Island. The sprawling strip mall setup — an unplanned consequence of decentralized development — worked for a while, but it left areas such as Oceanside without what Hadas called “a center.”

“Oceanside needs a master plan,” Hadas said, that would address all the problems facing the community — from parking, to traffic, to the lack of a single downtown area where people can stroll and have commercially valuable experiences.

In Facebook posts, Oceansiders have called for movie theaters and other entertainment venues, such as Dave and Buster’s. Hadas said that businesses like these would help create those experiences.

Building more office space and mixed-use residential buildings, with storefronts on the ground level and apartments above, Hadas proposed, could have the same effect, and he said he has an idea where to construct such a center: the triangle plot encompassed by Lincoln Avenue, Long Beach Road and Atlantic Avenue and the site of Oceanside’s lighthouse.

He said that if the isolated shopping centers there were replaced with a well-designed mix of parking, shopping and entertainment businesses, and public spaces like parks and office space, that area could provide exactly the type of “center” that Oceanside needs.