‘Come see the future’ of Staten Island’s Port Richmond Avenue commercial corridor

The Port Richmond Avenue commercial corridor has long been considered primed for growth. With a diverse mix of merchants and an attractive location on the North Shore, the area’s traits make it unique from other parts of Staten Island.

How to once again make Port Richmond Avenue a destination for residents and visitors is a question that many have tried to answer over the years. Now, with the help of a consultant, backed by the Small Business Services Neighborhood Retail Leasing Program, the area has reason for optimism.

“It is fantastic that the city’s Department of Small Business Services is applying this opportunity to communities,” said Joan Catalano, executive director of the Northfield Community Local Development Corporation, which services the area.

Port Richmond Avenue was one of six communities throughout the city that were picked for the retail leasing program, and the only one on Staten Island, so Catalano said they feel very fortunate to have been chosen.

As part of the program, The JGSC Group served as a consultant to the LDC, studying the Port Richmond Avenue area and providing in-depth analytics behind retail attraction. This included an analysis of the trade areas to find where customers are coming from and studying patterns of retail and shopping to provide insight on what would give the area the best retail attraction plan from a customer audience point of view.

“Having those analytics is very valuable,” said Michelle Sledge, economic and community development coordinator of the LDC. “This is a remarkable and exceptional program in that it gives the commercial corridor a retail attraction roadmap.”

One of the initial conclusions The JGSC Group provided is that there are many potential shoppers for Port Richmond Avenue but not enough stores. Shoppers are “hungry” for quality retail merchandise and all types of dining, and with an average disposable income of $49,000 per household, they have a lot of money to spend, the study found.

Shoppers spend $2.3 billion annually on retail goods and services and an additional $367 million at restaurants. Demand for furniture exceeds supply by $23 million per year, and “uncaptured” demand for full-service restaurants is $77 million per year with another $66 million for limited service restaurants, the study found. As such, there are “plentiful opportunities” for Port Richmond Avenue. Sledge said the program has helped the LDC identify who they consider destination retailers, specifically in the industries The JGSC Group recommended — home furnishings, home-related goods and restaurants. There is already a diverse mix of ethnic merchants who provide everything from hand-crafted items to an eclectic selection of food, and the LDC hopes to build on that to attract people to the area. And for merchants that are looking to open or re-locate, Port Richmond Avenue has spaces for businesses of all size at a relatively cheaper price than other parts of the Island.

“We want to celebrate that and attract additional retailers who are regional name brands who can help build upon that recognition as a great place to eat and shop,” Sledge said.

The LDC is building consensus among the stakeholders in the community to see what changes can be made for long-term improvement. Port Richmond Avenue has a strong residential base of which to take advantage, if particular stores are located there, said Kathleen Bielsa, the LDC’s deputy director.

“It’s all coming together,” she said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to get the most out of this opportunity.”

The JGSC Group also analyzed the merchants currently located in the corridor and took a look at what existing programs at the city, state and federal level the LDC could use to further its retail development, such as brownfield opportunities on waterfront properties.

“Part of the strategic plan is to focus on redevelopment on the portion of the commercial corridor that is closest to the waterfront,” Sledge said. “Those sites and that portion of the commercial corridor have the best opportunity for catalytic for change.”

While the LDC looks to fill empty spaces with new business, it will focus on shorter-term goals such as streetscape improvements and marketing. By utilizing The Port Richmond Partnership, a joint program with Wagner College, the LDC will initiate a major street cleaning and storefront revitalization on a monthly or bi-monthly basis with the help of students, merchants and residents, Sledge said.

The JGSC Group is also helping the LDC kick off a major marketing plan that will include a new website listing all the merchants and providing an “Invest” page with resources for merchants who are looking to move or open.

Over the next year, major commercial events will be planned to drive foot traffic to Port Richmond.

“One of the areas that we have always found very challenging for our organization is getting the word out, and being able to have someone actually design the literature that’s going out,” Catalano said.

This will greatly help a major emphasis of the program: To expand the Port Richmond Avenue area and make it a destination for shoppers from all over, not just the direct community.

“Everyone that gets to know Port Richmond really thinks it’s a great place and that it’s poised for revitalization,” Bielsa said. “We’re really getting great attention right now, and we’re hoping to build some momentum.”