MAY 13, 2021
By GREGORY ZELLER
A COVID-sized dent in retail businesses and a disproportionate impact on communities of color highlight a new report detailing the pandemic’s effects on Long Island downtowns – and what to do about them.
“Long Island Downtowns: New Strategies for a Post-COVID World,” prepared for the Garden City-based Rauch Foundation by New York City-based real estate consultancy HR&A Advisors, leverages research conducted in late 2020 and early 2021 – including public and proprietary data, online business surveys and discussions with government leaders, business associations and other stakeholders – to break down 30 regional downtowns during the pandemic, and project their post-pandemic courses.
Among the headlines: many more permanent closures in lower-income downtowns, with more than a third of all retail and food-and-beverage businesses surveyed across Long Island projecting 2020 revenue losses of 50 percent or greater, compared to 2019 and years prior.
Other key takeaways from the Rauch Foundation report, presented Wednesday to the Long Island Regional Planning Council, include one in five downtown businesses reporting serious pre-pandemic challenges (unaffordable rents and online competition top the list); two in five that said they were growing in the years preceding COVID; and better pandemic rebounds by downtowns geared toward food and leisure, and by those embracing innovative uses of public spaces.
Long Island downtowns are familiar turf for the Rauch Foundation, which published the Long Island Index – an annual socioeconomic study that dove deep into downtown-redevelopment issues – for 15 years, before ending the annual project in 2018.
This new, pandemic-specific study reveals “much pain and disruption in most Long Island downtowns,” according to Rauch Foundation President Nancy Rauch Douzinas, with more drastic effects in low-income and minority communities.
Fortunately, the president noted, it also offers a plan forward.
“This report outlines clear and actionable steps that our elected officials and leaders from other sectors can take today to aid recovery in all communities and get Long Island’s businesses back on track,” Douzinas said.
Downtowns in the new normal must creatively reimagine storefronts and explore innovative uses for streets and open spaces; the report also notes that immediate government small-business support is required – particularly in lower-income communities – and that flexible offices spaces and multifamily housing units are both part of successful downtown planning.
Former Long Island Association President and CEO Kevin Law, now a partner and executive vice president at East Setauket-based Tritec Real Estate Development and still co-chairman of the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council, noted that Island downtowns “are hurting” – and said the Rauch Foundation report was a solid first step toward dressing those wounds.
“Our downtown communities are the heart of our region,” Law said in a statement. “The Rauch Foundation has now delivered a blueprint for what the most critical pain points are for local businesses, how we can stabilize and support the local economy today, and what we need to do to ensure that recovery is sustainable.”
Nancy Rauch Douzinas: Actionable advice.