Kudos to the City for Keeping the Plaza Open
I’m delighted that the City Council voted to keep the Purchase Street pedestrian zone, known as Purchase Plaza, open through November. At a time when fewer of us are traveling, it’s great to have such a festive atmosphere right at home. Residents love it. Restaurant owners love it. Some merchants love it. Other merchants, however, object to it, saying it’s hurting their businesses.
Lola is closing after many years on Purchase Street. My heart breaks to see this and Rye’s other struggling businesses. However, I can’t help feeling that if merchants attribute their difficulties to Purchase Plaza, their blame is misplaced. A report from Bloomberg on car-free streets says “shopkeepers” may be “concerned that customers wouldn’t be able to reach their shops without the ability to drive up to their storefronts. But as evidence continues to show, retail actually improves in pedestrian zones.”
But that was pre-Covid. S&P Global titled a recent report: “September Retail Market: US Sales Growth Slows; Bankruptcies Reach 10-Year High.” The damage is happening unequally across sectors. Tragically for America’s downtowns, the lockdown accelerated our reliance on giant retailers. The New York Times says business is booming at Amazon, Walmart, and Target, while “the pandemic has been devastating for the broader retail industry.” The Wall Street Journal says: “Covid is crushing small businesses,” and reports that one in five are likely closed for good.
Many people have lost income and are exercising fiscal restraint; some are relying on food pantries for the first time in their lives. Others are spending the money they’d budgeted for commuting, vacations, kids’ summer camps, sporting events, and entertainment – but they’re spending it on things they can use at home right now, such as electronics and home improvements, and holding off on clothes and accessories until they have somewhere to wear them. Opening Purchase Street to traffic won’t change that.
Some of Rye’s business owners say customers have complained about the street closing. I’m sure that’s true, but the fact is, parking spots on Purchase Street have always been scarce. For years, no one has driven to downtown Rye unless they’re willing to park in a back lot. (The exception is people with handicapped parking permits. Purchase Plaza has been created without reducing the number of handicapped parking spots.)
I hope small shops thrive when our lives return to normal. In the meantime, let’s support our wonderful local businesses — and thank the City for Purchase Plaza, which gives residents pleasure and restaurants a way to hang in there.
- Meg Cameron