March 23, 2014 at 11:00 AM
WESTFIELD, NJ – After a tough winter, a healthy crop of new retail businesses is set to open downtown this spring, bringing fresh products and services to local shoppers and keeping Westfield a top destination for merchants.
“In the 12 years I’ve been here, I’ve never seen so many new leases, since December,” said Sherry Cronin, executive director of the Downtown Westfield Corporation (DWC). “I don’t remember a quarter with so much activity.”
Some of the new businesses slated to open their doors downtown this spring include Akai Japanese Sushi Lounge on East Broad Street, Exquisite Bride on North Avenue, Girl from Ipanema Spa on Elm Street and N&C Jewelers on Quimby Street, which will be owned by two longtime employees of Michael Kohn Jewelers, a shop that closed recently after more than a century in business.
Recent openings also include French restaurant Amuse, King Star Chinese Restaurant, Alex and Ani jewelry, wedding coordinator Details Made Simple, Carolyn Ann Ryan Photography and The Bar Method of Westfield, a body-shaping exercise studio.
Business owners new to Downtown Westfield seek out space in town for its walkability, access to the train line, healthy mix of independent and national stores and general attractiveness, as well as the synergy among established shops and supportive groups like the Greater Westfield Area Chamber of Commerce (GWACC) and DWC, sources say.
Downtown Westfield is one of only 26 Historic Main Street Communities in the entire state of New Jersey, noted Jodi Luminiello, sales associate for Coldwell Banker and the brains behind the Facebook page 365 Things to do in Westfield.
“It’s a very desirable downtown. We have a great selection of businesses and we aren't too close to the malls,” said Luminiello. “And it's got a great reputation, which is the main draw to the area.”
Saul Drittel, a commercial sales agent at Coldwell Banker, likens Westfield to Ridgewood, Princeton and Haddonfield in terms of the vibrancy of its downtown. He pointed out that Westfield is one of the few New Jersey towns that is home to a major department store, Lord & Taylor, and said that it has fared well in the age of internet shopping.
Before Aimee Raoul opened Le Bain Boutique on Elm Street in September, she considered locating in Ridgewood. She decided that Westfield offered more opportunities for her shop, which sells a variety of bath and body treats plus home fragrances and gifts.
“We love the town, the community, and I think there was demand for natural bath products,” she said.
Raoul found her search for a space in town relatively straightforward and said her first holiday season was strong. But she also knows that marketing must be a key part of her business plan to keep customers returning.
“I do an event at least once a month,” she said.
Heather L. Robinson, executive director of the GWACC, said that business owners like Raoul need to be creative by holding special events in their stores or partnering with other merchants to cross-promote, for example.
“Those are the kind of things you have to do these days to support your overhead,” she said.
Retail rental prices in Downtown Westfield currently range from $25 to $45 per square foot depending on the building, location and the property owner, according to Cronin. However, Drittel said prices could go as high as $60 per square foot for certain prime spots.
Cronin measures vacancy rates in terms of square footage, and she estimates that rate to be about six percent of total square footage downtown.
DWC sponsors town-wide events throughout the year, including jazz nights in the summer, a Halloween costume contest and a twice-yearly Girls Night Out, which will be held again April 24. It also provides grant money to Westfield businesses for upkeep and has helped renovate 150 storefronts over the last 20 years.
“The downtown works because everyone works together, really,” said Cronin.
In her position, Cronin also understands the importance of marketing to those who do not live in Westfield but come here to shop or dine. She tracks where the women who come to Girls Night Out and at last fall’s event women from 183 towns around the state attended, representing 32 percent of towns in New Jersey.
Despite the influx of new retailers, roughly one-third of shopkeepers in town have been here more than 25 years, a testament to the downtown’s strength, Cronin noted. One of them is Gordin & Sons Jewelers on E. Broad St., which has been in business since 1981.
“This has been a jewelry store since World War II,” Jack Gordin, who owns the store with his father, Paul, said of the location. Father and son sell jewelry, repair watches, restore clocks and design jewelry on occasion. Over the years, they have developed a loyal following. One recent morning a customer who brought in his wife’s watch to be fixed recalled buying a friendship ring for a high school sweetheart there decades earlier.
“We do everything ourselves. I think that’s what people like,” Gordin said.
Meanwhile, real estate agents say the market for office space has been soft in Westfield and the surrounding area as doctors, dentists and lawyers look to consolidate.
“There’s a lot available from the purchase standpoint and the rental standpoint,” Drittel said.
Attorney Heather Keith hung her shingle in Westfield in July after moving her divorce and family law practice from Scotch Plains. She sublets space with other attorneys in an office building at 600 South Avenue.
Keith appreciates the foot traffic she sees in town, the many trees that line the streets and the business-friendly atmosphere here. The many nearby eateries offer a good variety of places to take clients out for a meal, as well.
“I like the fact that a lot of businesses are family-owned,” she said. “The location is fantastic.”
To see a list of upcoming grand openings in Downtown Westfield, visit www.westfieldtoday.com