Written by Sherry Cronin, Executive Director, Downtown Westfield Corporation
There has been much focus on the state of Downtown Westfield this year especially as retail continues to go through incredible change. With the convenience and ease of online shopping and the choice of how consumers can spend, many of our own residents may not shop the same way they did in the past. Yet, we all want a strong and vibrant downtown and want to see every storefront filled.
Westfield is not alone. As retail continues to contract, restaurants and personal service types of businesses are growing. Many downtowns and shopping destinations are experiencing similar issues. There are many factors locally to nationally which are influencing the pace of change we are experiencing. Every day, there is a new headline about store closings and the state of retail on the decline. As demographics shift, more millennials will emerge onto the marketplace and additional change is inevitable. Business uses that could never have been contemplated are often not allowed in the existing zoning ordinances. Product and service providers often struggle to determine what customers want and expect. Today’s retailers often do not need or want large square foot locations which is prevalent in some Downtown Westfield vacancies requiring some difficult and costly decisions on behalf of tenants and property owners.
However, rest assured that there are many people in Westfield who are working diligently to stay ahead of some of some of the issues. Downtown Westfield Corporation (DWC), the Mayor & Town Council, the Town’s professional staff, the Westfield Area Chamber of Commerce, as well as, members on the Mayor’s appointed Downtown Task Force are some of the resources which are working with the Town in developing solutions for the near and long term.
Downtown Westfield has always been the center of community in Westfield and is considered to be the best Downtown around. In the 18 block district, there are over 450 businesses—many of which have existed for 25 years or more. Each year, approximately 25-30 businesses change indicating that there is always something fresh in the marketplace for people to experience and enjoy. In fact, we know that people are very interested in new businesses particularly since it is one of the most read sections in our monthly WestfieldToday e-newsletter. We encourage residents to subscribe to our newsletter, to get involved; and perhaps most importantly, to shop local and support those local businesses which in turn support our community.
DWC, the management entity of Westfield’s Special Improvement District (SID), and its predecessor organization Main Street Westfield has been working on the revitalization of the downtown since 1993. The vision of the DWC is for Westfield to be a preferred destination where people want to live, work and visit. This includes improving the district’s economic viability by supporting existing businesses and encouraging the establishment of new enterprises and cultural activities that complement existing stores, restaurants and services, while preserving the rich architectural legacy of the downtown area. The DWC is a designated Main Street community that follows the National Main Street Center revitalization approach, which includes design, economic development, organization and promotions.
The DWC’s annual budget is solely supported by the downtown property owners as a SID assessment. The DWC produces the monthly WestfieldToday.com e-newsletter sent to approximately 20,000 e-mail addresses, as well as many publications and advertisements that include the Destination Westfield Shopping, Dining & Services Directory. On behalf of the business district, the DWC is responsible for popular events including: Sidewalk Sale Days, Dine Out Westfield Restaurant Weeks, Girls’ Day/Night Out, Sweet Sounds Downtown Jazz Festivals, the Downtown Westfield 5K & Pizza Extravaganza, Trick or Treat Downtown and Costume Contest, Small Business Saturday, the Annual Tree Lighting, Photos with Santa and Mrs. Claus and Welcome Home to Westfield holiday events.
In addition to some streetscape work coordinating with the Town, almost 175 building façades have been enhanced by working with downtown property owners and tenants utilizing our successful Façade Renovation Incentive Grant program. The DWC coordinates grand opening ribbon-cutting events in conjunction with the Greater Westfield Area Chamber of Commerce and is proud of the many partnerships it has nurtured over the years with many organizations and businesses. Through the DWC’s downtown revitalization efforts, Westfield has received many accolades on behalf of Westfield.
The DWC is governed by a seven-member board of directors, has two full-time and one part-time staff members, and has numerous volunteers serving on Design, Promotion, Economic Development and Organization Committees. The DWC staff includes Sherry Cronin, executive director; Beth Brenner, assistant executive director, and Jamie Lemberg, digital marketing and social media manager. Volunteer board members include: Dominick Verdic, chairman, and Alan De Rose, vice-chairman, property owners; Frank Isoldi, Jr. and Lisa Bertone, secretary, business operators; Steve Silverman, treasurer and resident member; Town Councilman Sam Della Fera; Shawn Hanna, resident member, Stephanie Walsh, Mayor designee, and Jim Gildea, town administrator.
To volunteer, or learn more about the DWC, located at 105 Elm Street, lower level, visit WestfieldToday.com or contact Sherry Cronin at (908) 789-9444.