From Aug. 17, 2015 | by Michael White
If Patchogue Village’s retail sector was represented by a patchwork quilt, there would be some missing patches.
“You’re basic needs are pretty much met here,” said Greater Patchogue Chamber of Commerce president Jacqueline Hensley. “Your eye care, health care, accountants, doctors, attorneys, hair salons.”
But say you’re looking for a bakery, or you need a man’s suit — or just a tie.
Well, you’ll likely need to get in your car and drive.
Looking to alter the trend from more and more bars and restaurants, the Chamber of Commerce has shifted its focus toward establishing a thriving, walkable retail hub in Patchogue Village.
As part of those efforts, the Chamber launched a Retail Happy Hour promotional event last month, through which some local shops are staying open later and offering discounts from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Fridays.
“People are coming here because they have a pre-planned reason to,” said the Chamber’s executive director, David Kennedy. “The’ve got reservations or tickets to a show or they’re going to see a band. The bars and restaurants have been great and no doubt contributed to the revitalization, but we want Patchogue to be an experience.”
“You shouldn’t need one reason to come. You should just come.”
Kennedy believes the area might be one hotel — or a few bed-and-breakfasts — away from becoming that type of destination, where people might visit for the sake of visiting.
“We can become a really legitimate alternative on eastern Long Island to the Hamptons or the East End,” he said.
To do so, shops for shoppers is a key ingredient. And in turn, the visitors would help the retail sector, because weekenders are apt to spend money in shops — as opposed to local visitors who might just dine in Patchogue Village before heading back home.
“Patchogue is such a great tourist destination,” said Hensley, whose family owns William J. O’Neill Sales Exchange on East Main Street. “You have easy access to Davis Park. You have Watch Hill. You have the theater. We have so much here and sometimes it gets overlooked.”
Even existing retail can get overlooked, simply because there’s not enough retail. Or, the shops that do exist don’t keep hours past 5 p.m., when people in today’s more common two-salary households are just getting off work.
Barbara Guerra, owner of Dahlia Fashions, a women’s clothing store on East Main Street, said she gets a lot of business from the street fairs, when the roads are closed and people are walking around the village. But other days can be hit or miss.
A longtime former district manager for Rainbow Shops, Guerra first opened Dahlia on West Main Street about five years ago before moving into the heart of downtown near the theater two years later.
Her location and evening hours help, she said, but more competition in the form of more shops would be the biggest boon to her business, she said.
“Competition is good,” she said. “People go from store to store and get to know each place. Right now sometimes it feels kind of like we’re all alone here.”
“Business is unpredictable in the area,” she added. “One day it can be good. Another day it’s so-so. Then it can be real bad. And I believe it’s because there’s not many retail stores.”
For Kennedy, he’s got a wish list of stores, even if one might be better classified as a pipe dream.
“For me, vinyl [records] is making a huge comeback,” he said. “Even if your’e not buying something, those are great stores to browse.”
In the meantime, he said, the Chamber will be looking to grow the Retail Happy Hour promotion, possibly with the help of the restaurants. He’s floated the idea of food or beverage discounts that come with spending a certain amount of money in the local stores.
He said he’s also intrigued by legislation that might encourage commercial bed and breakfasts, similar to what Bellport Village recently approved.
“A hotel is a risky endeavor,” Kennedy said. “If you open a hotel you have to fill those rooms, and if it doesn’t work and it closes, the idea could be sent back decades. But if you open some bed and breakfasts and they start filling up, maybe it can grow from there.”
The Chamber has other ideas as well, such as free classes for would-be entrepreneurs.
“Shopping has always been such a part of Patchogue’s identity,” Kennedy said. “We don’t want to lose that.”
Photo: Barbara Guerra, owner of Dahlia Fashions, in her shop on Friday. (Credit: Michael White)