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Consumers Weigh In On Revitalizing Scarsdale Village Center

Scarsdale Village CenterThe Scarsdale Forum Downtown Revitalization Committee has released the first of two survey reports meant to generate real ways to breathe life into the village center. Convened over a year ago, the committee has held discussions with a prominent village landlord and village staff, and has polled both consumers and merchants in its attempts to paint a complete picture of what’s right and what’s wrong about Downtown Scarsdale.

Of particular interest is its recently completed, in-depth consumer and merchant surveys, which will yield two critical viewpoints to consider in proposing practical, results-oriented solutions to reinvigorate the area. And, the committee’s just-published consumer survey report not only confirms what many Scarsdale residents think; it provides a strong voice for creating meaningful change.

The survey, which yielded 1,257 responses, presented a fairly comprehensive view of consumer options from all likely visitors to Downtown Scarsdale. According to Downtown Revitalization Committee Chair Susan Douglass, “The response rate for our consumer survey is strongly represented by Scarsdale residents; however, the committee made a concerted effort to recruit respondents from areas neighboring Scarsdale Village.”

In terms of demographics, the highest concentration of visitors to the village center lives within walking distance (less than a mile) to it. In addition, almost half of those who live two to five miles from the village center still visit at least two to three times per week.

The Lowdown on Downtown
Survey participants were, overwhelmingly, positive about the attractiveness and cleanliness of downtown Scarsdale stores and restaurants, and the quality of customer service delivered by those establishments. “Nonetheless, there were many ‘verbatim’ responses that pointed to aging infrastructure and aesthetic factors, such as the lack of freshness, vibrancy and an inviting feel,” said Douglass. “Some free-text responses mentioned specific retail establishments in need of upgrading.”

It also was clear that food, beverages and eateries scored highest as top reasons to visit the village center, while consumers indicated that apparel and jewelry stores scored at the low end of reasons to visit downtown – a critical point when one considers the number of such establishments. Further, as Douglass pointed out, “Scarsdale retail has traditionally been associated with luxury goods and services shopping. It is interesting to note that the percentage of respondents with a negative opinion increased in correlation with household income.” For instance, 35 percent of consumers with a household income of $550,000 or greater had a negative perception of the luxury goods and services shopping experience, compared with 16 percent of those with an income of less than $100,000.

“Overwhelmingly, the most affluent customers are not pleased with the variety of goods and services available in Scarsdale Village Center. In fact, these respondents were quite vocal in their comments and survey responses that they prefer value to luxury in downtown and that the current composition of retail offerings is not the ideal,” stated Douglass.

Appearance and customer service aside, survey participants expressed the most negative responses when asked about the parking experience and availability of restaurants, entertainment options and retail diversity in downtown Scarsdale.

Parking Wars
As expected, consumers requested increasing the availability and ease of parking, and reducing the negative aspects of the parking experience, such as aggressive enforcement and antiquated meters. According to Douglass, “Complaints about the availability of parking and overzealous enforcement of parking violations were the most oft-mentioned subjects in the survey’s open-ended respondent comments.” She continued, “Parking availability, and the ease of getting in and out of spaces ranked as the second-worst attribute of the village center among respondents.”

The survey also asked consumers to rate two possible solutions to the parking challenges. Increasing availability (providing more spaces) yielded a slightly higher score than offering free parking, with some respondents pointing out that free parking might actually reduce parking availability and make matters worse. “A solution should not be deferred until Freightway is rebuilt,” Douglass said. “We have to find near-term solutions and create a long-term plan that balances the unfilled needs of consumers, commuters, merchants and visitors.”

We Like the Nightlife
Over three-quarters of respondents (78 percent) had a negative view of the village center due to the lack of entertainment options. “Entertainment has to be another reason to go to Scarsdale Village,” said Douglass. “Respondents especially wanted reasons for visiting the area in the evening, although reasons to come to the village center at any time of day will revitalize the area. Classes, demonstrations, education, socialization opportunities and the like need to be considered. Downtown Scarsdale needs to attract the diversity of interests that local residents demand, which will go far to establish a greater sense of community.”

In particular, the survey results yielded several factors that would increase traffic: adding more casual dining options, and a brew pub or wine bar, as well as an entertainment venue, such as a movie theater. Despite the quality of Scarsdale’s schools and the significant number of school-aged children living here, there was relatively little support for adding a party or sports facility targeting children. “The data strongly suggests that eateries and establishments serving alcohol are the top categories that should be pursued for vacancies in the village center, and that casual dining is the most desirable option in that category,” reported Douglass.

The Upshot
The consumer survey data will guide the Downtown Revitalization Committee as it works to define the combination of uses that best reflect the community's preferences, capture market opportunities, build on local assets and strengthen the community's identity. After reviewing results of the poll, it made several recommendations:

  • Expand the availability and diversity of grocery and beverage options, such as specialty stores and the farmer's market, as well as upgrade existing facilities
  • Expand restaurant and other dining options, including family dining
  • Improve retail diversity and services to balance the current concentration of a limited type of providers
  • Provide space for entertainment and cultural event programming
  • Implement practical solutions to parking availability, and address aggressive parking enforcement issues
  • Improve parks and other green spaces in the village center to create more welcoming, usable community spaces
  • Establish a coordinating body to study similar regional municipalities and the implementation of best practices to ensure a thriving downtown environment

In commenting on the survey and report, Douglass said, "Our recommendations should be considered by the stakeholders who can act upon them, in particular, village officials, landlords, merchants, village boards and councils, and independent agencies." She continued, "We intend to work with these stakeholders and other interested parties to further study the issues and implement our recommendations.”

Next Steps
Not wasting any time, the committee already has formed working groups to address issues raised by the survey. Douglass reported, “These volunteers will consider solutions for the lack of parking and issues regarding parking enforcement; will meet one-on-one with stakeholders to discuss our findings and develop solutions for the village center; and sit down with specific stakeholders identified in the survey to review issues raised by consumers.”

The committee also is studying the data from an in-depth survey completed by 75 village center merchants, a sizable survey sample. It plans to complete its analysis and write a summary report over the summer, which, no doubt, will include additional suggestions based on merchants’ points of view and provide another crucial piece for solving the puzzle that is Downtown Scarsdale.

A copy of the full consumer survey report is available here.

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