In the year since a group of Franklin Square residents met at the local library to share their thoughts on revitalizing the community’s downtown, empty storefronts have only become more common, as the coronavirus pandemic has forced some local businesses to close.
Franklin Square had about 15 empty storefronts on Jan. 21, with four spotted on Franklin Avenue and seven on Hempstead Turnpike, between Madison and Herman avenues. Others, such as Deamo Kitchen and Bath and the Athletes in Training gym on Hempstead Turnpike, are temporarily closed.
Elmont, meanwhile, had about 20 empty storefronts — six on Meacham Avenue, five on Dutch Broadway, three on Elmont Road and seven on Hempstead Turnpike, between Remsen Street and the entrance to the Cross Island Parkway.
“Our businesses really are suffering,” said State Sen. Anna Kaplan, who introduced a bill early last month to protect small-business owners from the threat of foreclosure or eviction until May 1. The bill would create a standardized hardship declaration form that business owners would fill out and send to their landlords to prevent them from being foreclosed on or evicted, and would protect small-business property owners from tax liens and negative credit reporting as the pandemic drags on.
“The Covid-19 Emergency Protect Our Small Businesses Act... will hit the pause button on eviction and foreclosure proceedings for small businesses that are struggling to get back on their feet without the looming threat of being closed down for good because they’ve fallen behind during the pandemic,” Kaplan, who chairs the State Senate Committee of Commerce, Economic Development and Small Businesses, said in a statement, noting that the state has also previously passed tax incentives and tax cuts for small-business owners to obtain personal protective equipment.
But the issue of small businesses closing is not a new one, according to Hempstead Town Councilman Bruce Blakeman, a Republican from Valley Stream who represents Franklin Square, because these businesses have had to compete with large online retailers for years. As a result, Blakeman said, many area strip malls have empty storefronts.
To prevent that from happening, Franklin Square resident Katherine Tarascio suggested that residents help the Historical Society preserve the hamlet’s heritage with historic landmarks. Tarascio, who helped lead the successful effort to preserve Franklin Square Cinemas in 2019, explained at a community revitalization meeting last year that preservation would help the town maintain its historic appeal, create jobs and attract investment.
“Preservation is often an effective early step in downtown revitalization,” she said at the time.
Another resident, Nancy Youngfert, proposed a tiered-parking structure behind the businesses on Hempstead Turnpike with designated spots for commuters and residents, noting that the lack of parking sometimes discourages her from shopping at local businesses.
To improve the situation, the Town of Hempstead has installed decorative lights near the shopping centers on Dogwood Avenue, in Franklin Square, and at the intersection of Meacham Avenue and Hempstead Turnpike in Elmont, Blakeman noted, and he and other town officials have spoken to their colleagues at the state level about redeveloping Hempstead Turnpike, from Elmont Road to the border of Franklin Square and West Hempstead, with more pedestrian rights-of-way and a possible pedestrian bridge.
Those changes, however, would have to be discussed with residents and community leaders before any work could begin.
In the meantime, the local chambers of commerce are trying to promote the businesses they already have. The Elmont chamber, for example, recently signed a contract with Oceanside-based Jillian’s Circus, an internet marketing service, to help with its social media. The company contacts local business owners whenever there is a holiday coming up that relates to their services, chamber President Julie Marschella said, and profiles do-gooders in the community.
“We’re all struggling to keep our own necks above water,” Marschella said, “let alone post on Facebook.”
And in Franklin Square, chamber officials are building a website that will list all 176 member businesses’ services and how they are meeting Covid protocols.
“We really have to make an effort to go out and shop locally,” said Kaplan, who represents parts of Franklin Square and Elmont, adding, “We all suffer as a result of small businesses’ failure.”