To The Editor:
If there is one thing we have learned over the last few months, it’s that a pandemic can shut down an economy and the way we do business. It’s for this reason that we need to consider another way to move forward in this changing world we live in, to ensure a vibrant downtown in Westfield now and in the future.
The Town of Westfield’s solution for this is to designate areas in downtown as “areas in need of rehabilitation or redevelopment”. These designations will allow the town to offer tax abatements to property owners/developers to improve their properties. The town hopes this will lead to a revitalization of downtown and bring business back to Westfield.
It is true, something needs to be done to fill the empty storefronts and attract shoppers to our downtown area. However, I’m not sure that offering tax credits to property owners/developers and creating more parking via a multi-tiered parking garage, more stores, or more residential living, is the answer. I think the answer lies with the “types” of businesses we attract to our downtown and how they compete with online shopping.
If there is an upside to the pandemic we are living through, it’s that online ordering and pick up (or local delivery) has been proven to work. The many successful apps, Dunkin' Donuts, Starbucks, Instacart, Panera Bread and Home Depot, just to name a few, ensured people could shop locally while limiting the amount of time spent in public. These apps that allow a shopper to select a store location near them, shop, and select a time for pick-up or local delivery would be a way to attract shoppers to our businesses in downtown Westfield.
An app that encompasses all the businesses that would want to participate could promote the town and compete with online shopping. This way of doing business could result in shorter lines, if any, for in-store pick up rather than the longer checkout lines. Instead of waiting days or weeks for orders to ship, a shopper could pick up their items from the store the same day and pay no extra cost for shipping. Also, without shipping boxes, we could save a few trees along the way.
As towns open up, groups of people will want to gather and share experiences again. Those restaurants or shops that provide an “experience” and have a social media presence encouraging patrons to share that experience online, will attract people to downtown. Some examples of very popular establishments in NYC that are considered “instagrammable” include Pietro Nolita, Dylan’s Candy Bar, and Serra Alpina by Birreria.
This is how I believe we should revitalize downtown and bring business back to Westfield.