Town Crier: Economy hits Montclair Village hard


MONTCLARION: June 24, 2011

It’s shaping up to be the summer of discontent in Montclair. There are now 18 vacancies in the Village and no sign of a turnaround anytime soon.

It’s a source of frustration for many merchants, who feel landlords are demanding unreasonable rents in a tough business climate.

“I can no longer stand by and watch the destruction of fire around me,” says Teresa Bozikis, who owns Touch Salon & Gallery in Montclair. She’s submitted a list of Village vacancies to the city and has been instrumental in helping the Montclair Village Association craft a letter for merchants to use in negotiating “fair market rate” from landlords.

“It takes a village to raise a child,” she says. “This thought rings in my head every day. The community is unaware of the current devastation business owners are facing.”

But this is just one perspective on the challenges that face Montclair Village. Barbara Kami, a commercial real estate broker with Ellwood Properties, says the Conditional Use Permit designed to restrict the number of food and financial businesses in Montclair is hurting, not helping, the Village.

“I really feel that the city and the MVA need to relax their rules and say, ‘We’ll take any viable business.’ They need to bring bodies up there.”

With several vacant properties in Montclair, including the site of longtime staple Montclair Village Hardware, she says they haven’t had interest from a retail store since 2009.

“I geta lot of calls from nail salons. If I were just in it to make money, I could put a nail salon in every vacancy in the Village,” Kami says.

Even more disturbing, there’s the perception, she says, that Montclair doesn’t get enough foot traffic, which becomes worse every time a business shuts down.

“If we had better restaurants,” says Kami, “if we could get some bakeries in there “… if we did this, it would create a buzz.”

Village supporter and former Montclair merchant Michael Levy agrees.

Last year, he put together a group to help market the Village but says the MVA has not been responsive to their suggestions or ideas.

To be fair, we need to recognize that about 10 percent of the merchants are doing most of the work in running the MVA, and they have their own businesses too.

Just how much time are they expected to devote to marketing the Village when their own livelihoods may be threatened?

Having said this, the MVA is about to get new leadership. David Sarber (Sarber’s Cameras) is stepping down as president to devote more time to his business; Winter Williams at Bank of the West is expected to take his place when the votes are tabulated this week.

She’ll have plenty to deal with in the coming months — not just with vacancies but with increasing concerns about crime and security.

I’ll continue to follow this story, but if you’d like to offer suggestions, consider attending a first-Wednesday-of-the-month MVA board meeting (6:15 to 7:30 p.m.) at US Bank, 1998 Mountain Blvd. in Montclair.

RETAIL TREND: They’re called pop-up shops — stores that spring up in empty retail spaces with short-term leases. European transplants Rachel Konte and Penelope Adibe have a new pop-up designer shop called OAKOLLECTIV at 1427 Broadway that sells indie fashions from Oakland designers. They opened in mid-May and have about two more months on their lease. See their shop, either in person or on the web at http://oakollectiv.blogspot.com.

BUBBA ALERT: If you’re the kind of person who goes bonkers for burgers, then buy a bite of the world’s largest hamburger for commercial consumption next Saturday at the Alameda County Fair.

Talk about a whopper! This heart attack on a bun will weigh 850 pounds with more than 1.3 million calories. Proceeds will go to the Alameda County Food Bank.

It’s part of the fair’s 99th anniversary running, June 22 through July 11.

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