Is Flemington Dead?
I read from time to time in social media that Main Street Flemington is dead. It is not dead. When I try to pull out of my office driveway I observe, from traffic moving past my office, that it certainly is not dead during much of the day. There is a considerable amount of traffic passing both north and south on Main Street in Flemington. Has anyone made a count?
So what do people, who comment and express themselves in social media, actually mean when they say Main Street is dead? Perhaps they are saying they do not see the retail activity on Main Street they imagine they might have seen 40, 50, or more years ago. They talk about stores being empty. They talk about a lack of foot traffic. They talk about a failure to offer particular retail products and service uses that they would like to see. Most of those retail products and service uses are available in the surrounding community in newer facilities.
What Is Downtown Main Street?
Do they know that through 1955, 63 years ago, there was no where in the Flemington area to conduct any business except on Main Street? There was no business competition. There was no zoning limit on how property could be used. There was no on-line shopping over the internet.
I suggest that the first question to start with is; What Is Downtown Main Street in Flemington today? What is it intended to be today? Is it the retail center of our region, or is it actually an office center of our region?
Let's take a walk down Main Street and see what is presently there. We find restaurants, offices, businesses that serve people who are in offices, and an occasional retail use. If we look closely at some of the retail uses we realize that they are of a more specialized nature and not the kind of general uses that might attract mass numbers of customers and shoppers.
For example we have a specialty shoe store that will dye shoes to match the gowns worn by women in a wedding party. We have a dress shop that provides wedding gowns, prom gowns, and other specialty outfits. We have a vacuum cleaner and sewing machine shop. We have a jewelry store, the shop of a photographer that offers portrait services and miscellaneous photo services such as copying and transferring old movies to video. He also has available some limited photographic equipment for sale. There is a store where people gather to paint what the owner of the space calls “fun art, not fine art”. Further up the street is another photographer, one who promotes his services for family photos and wedding photography.
As we continue along the street we see a number of different types of eating establishments. There is a high-end lunch and tea time establishment, a bagel shop, a salad store, an “old-fashioned soda fountain” and lunch shop, a more upscale lunch and catering establishment, and another more upscale restaurant and catering establishment. These all service the office crowd during the noon hour and others in the evening.
We have a newspaper store that sells magazines and newspapers and ice cream and candy bars. We have a small candy store setback from the street. There is a barbershop and across the street a beauty shop with nail salon. We have lawyer offices, financial planners, an investment seller, an insurance agency, a dentist, another dentist, and a coffee and ice cream and sandwich shop. We have an empty store that was a gift shop that moved to expand into one of the few vacant spaces on the ground floor on Main Street. Is this the only vacant ground floor space available?
We have a bank. We have two taller office buildings that provide financial planners, lawyers, investment brokers, accountants, architects, and other office dwellers. We have at least two or three antique shops. We have a shop that sells clothing to the dance crowd. It always has a nice display in it’s window. We find a coin and gold shop.
We have an empty building that has recently been subjected to a foreclosure proceeding. The owner told me that he had tenants lined up to rent the building, but because there was uncertainty about a major renewal or redevelopment project that surrounded his property the prospective tenants decided not to sign up. Without rent coming in he could not pay his taxes and mortgage payments and lost the property to foreclosure.
Of course we all observe the center of town is taken up by our old historic courthouse and three large buildings owned by the County (property that does not pay taxes) that contain a small number of county employees considering the size of the buildings. Another building contains the local police department. Across the street from that county complex we have a presently empty hotel and restaurant that is waiting restoration or some other presently undetermined fate.
Main Street is an Office Town
One can only conclude that Flemington is more an office town, with retail and service uses supporting the office community, than it is a mall like retail community. Times have changed and uses of property have changed. We evolve.