Town Crier: What’s to do about Montclair Village vacancies?

MONTCLARION: July 1, 2011

In late 2004, I asked readers to consider what Montclair might be like if it lost its soul. I was referring to the ongoing temptation for landlords to fill vacancies with deep-pocket tenants (Realtors, restaurants, banks), changing the fabric of our small town.

At the time, Cold Stone Creamery was reportedly considering a store here and was seen as a threat to the family-owned Montclair Malt Shop.

Today, the reaction to Cold Stone might be different, given the state of the economy and the 18 vacancies I wrote about last week.

“I had no idea that Oakland has rules regarding limits on the types of businesses that can open in the Village,” says Tony Morosini, in reaction to last week’s column. He’s referring to Montclair’s C-27 zoning classification, which limits the number of ground-floor nonretail businesses. “Geez, we should get anything we can get,” he writes. Morosini cites the sign in the newly-vacant Montclair Village Hardware store stating the rent is $5,500. “That sounds like a lot of money for a small store.”

Reader Kathy Poly used to work in the Village, but her employer closed shop back in 2008.

“Needless to say, the location is still vacant after three years,” she writes. “To what end? Who has gained by this?”

On the other hand, maybe we should be careful what we wish for. David Sarber, the former head of the Montclair VillageAssociation and owner of Sarber’s Cameras, says things might look much different today without the zoning laws.

“No Sarber’s, no Montclair Sports, no Hallmark, no bike shop and many other locations that currently enjoy a small amount of bargaining power with landlords,” he said.

And while many merchants are worried about the vacancy rate and how it affects their own profits, some retailers are reporting an uptick in business.

“Ours is up over 20 percent from last year and we’ve been experiencing double-digit growth since we opened three years ago,” says Farmstead Cheeses and Wines owner Jeff Diamond. He reports that several other shop owners are seeing stronger sales this year as well.

So what is the answer? Should we try to ride out the recession and fight to keep mom-and-pop shops in Montclair, or should we compromise values to fill vacancies? Let me know what you think, and I’ll share some of your thoughts in future columns.

SUDDEN IMPACT: If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound? Well, the one that came down in Montclair Wednesday night made a cracking noise that could be heard throughout Shepherd Canyon, according to reader Roland Wong. It struck a home on Holyrood Drive in the early evening but thankfully no one was hurt. Still, Wong warns that with all the rain we’ve had this year, homeowners should be on the lookout for leaning trees that may topple at any time.

GOOD ZOO NEWS: The Oakland Zoo’s Walk in the Wild is always a blast, but last Saturday’s event was really something to celebrate. The zoo has been given the go-ahead to build a veterinary hospital and the long-awaited California Trail Project. How big a deal is this? The famously-fractured Oakland City Council voted unanimously for the expansion. Now if they could just come together to run the rest of the city.


One thought on “Town Crier: What’s to do about Montclair Village vacancies?

  1. I haven’t really studied this issue, but with the Montclair Hardware store moving, and the nearby hardware store in Glenview closing because of retirement, we are left with no convenient hardware store in the Village.

    The owner of the Montclair hardware store (who has now relocated south of the Village), told me that the rent had gone up 100% and that is what drove him out.

    I guess that’s free enterprise, but it is sad to see “oldtimers” forced out by rent increases.

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