LIVINGSTON, NJ — Although losing Baumgart’s Café hurt the Livingston Town Center financially, Onyx Equities Co-founder and Managing Principal John Saraceno said the owners have faith that its replacement and two other new businesses will benefit the center.
Saraceno officially announced at the Livingston Township Council on April 4 that Fan Bistro, an Asian-American, bring-your-own restaurant out of New Providence with a high-end menu, will replace Baumgart’s Café as early as June 1. Although Saraceno said that it is more likely to open in July, he also said that the new restaurant could be a catalyst for achieving greatness at the Town Center.
“Losing Baumgart’s hurt,” said Saraceno, who also confirmed that the center itself is not for sale. “The center has had a stigma for a long time and coming out of the recession was a battle—and harder than we thought it was going to be to be completely frank.”
Across the way, a juice store called Restore Cold Press, which Saraceno said is an extremely popular operation, is also opening at a similar time. According to Saraceno, Onyx Equities considers this new edition to be a phenomenal use for the portion of Foozy’s that is being separated.
These new editions to the Town Center were a topic of discussion at Monday’s Township Council meeting because the council was interested in hearing more about a proposal to use a portion of the residential first floor of the retail center as a dental office. When Silverman’s was cut in half, a local dentist was eager to rent the location for his medical practice and has been patiently awaiting a response from the landlords and township council.
According to Saraceno, medical practitioners as a practice have become much more customer-based, retail-oriented businesses and there are some already located in Livingston’s other retail environments. Saraceno said the Livingston Planning Board seemed to be on board with the idea, but he attended the meeting to assuage any concerns the council might have about the proposal.
One concern included whether bringing in a dentist would invite more medical practices to want Town Center space as well. Saraceno said he doesn’t foresee this being an issue, but if it’s successful there could hypothetically be another medical practice on an upper level in the future.
“Many of the retailers down there are Mom-and-Pop shops and they’re fighting every day to maintain their relevance and profitability,” said Saraceno. “But generally speaking, if we could get the dentist and Cold Press in, Fan Bistro’s opens and we split Foozy’s, we won’t have a lot of space left. We have a pretty solid mix and getting a couple of the anchors in will help everybody at least enough to create a good vibe.”
A second concern included parking, which Saraceno said has been a concern for shoppers since the beginning. However, many of the methods Onyx Equities have tried to enforce, including 15-minute parking, head-in-only parking and others haven’t necessarily worked.
“There’s not a parking problem at Livingston Town Center—there’s a parking-perception problem,” said Saraceno. “The one nice thing about dental is that you go to the dentist for more than five minutes, so we think it’s a use that will actually get more people to park in the deck. We think that it will start to alleviate some of the fight for parking.”
With approximately 60,000 square feet of retail space and 25-30 stores, the Town Center is already similar to a supermarket in that it has a lot of places to find complimentary uses. However, Saraceno said losing one of the anchors hurt the center in a large way.
According to Saraceno, Onyx Equities tried to save Baumgart’s Café in every way that it could, but in the end the owners couldn’t get organized and the reality was that it was better for everyone if they left. Saraceno said Anthony’s Coal-Fired Pizza became the anchor and currently serves as the Town Center’s main draw.
With the addition of Fan Bistro, Restore Cold Press and the potential dentist’s office, Saraceno said he optimistic that the center will remain solid from here on out and become even stronger.