The following Letter to the Editor was submitted by Mayor Brindle on April 20, 2022.
THE EXCITING ROAD AHEAD FOR DOWNTOWN WESTFIELD
This week, the Downtown Westfield Corporation, led by Executive Director Bob Zuckerman, made some very exciting announcements that include a long list of new downtown business openings, the expansion of existing businesses, and the return of your favorite seasonal outdoor events. This is welcome news for our downtown, which, over the past nearly two decades, has experienced many vacant storefronts due to the closing of several national chain stores, further exacerbated by COVID economic uncertainty these past two years.
This latest DWC announcement reflects an exciting turning point for our downtown, which is poised to emerge stronger than ever, in large part due to the commitment of our residents to shop local and to our many business owners who have persevered through an unimaginable two years with grit and resilience. I want to personally thank our residents for continuing to support our downtown, and to our businesses and property owners for remaining committed to our community and reinvesting in its future. I would also like to share some additional context around the DWC announcement so you can appreciate why we have reason to be optimistic about our downtown’s future, and know what to expect in the months ahead.
In a significant vote of confidence, many existing property owners, business owners, and residents are choosing to invest in our downtown. After all, who better to understand the local dynamic of our downtown, as well as its assets and ultimate potential, than those who are already living or doing business here? One property owner, when asked why he recently purchased his fifth building downtown, cited the ease of doing business in Westfield relative to other New Jersey towns where he operates, thanks in large part to the Town employees in our building and zoning departments who have embraced a “get to yes” and service-oriented culture. By implementing many new processes and automation tools, opening a new business has been expedited, and as any new business owner will tell you, time is money!
The business owners who are expanding their offerings and doubling down on their investment in Downtown Westfield include Lillian Pien, who not only bought the building on Elm Street where her restaurant, Akai, is relocating, but she is also increasing its capacity in the former Theresa’s location to include a beautiful new bar with expansive seating. Westfield residents Miriam Silver and Hillary Kaplan, owners of Mimi & Hill, experienced so much success with their holiday pop-up shop that they’re relocating their design studio offices and opening a permanent retail store in the former NJ Workshop for the Arts location on East Broad Street (which moved to a new building on Elmer Street!). Keller Williams and Excel Physical Therapy have also all made the decision to relocate their businesses within the downtown area.
Another positive indicator for our downtown is the number of Westfield residents who are opening and/or expanding their businesses here. In addition to the Mimi & Hill owners, Uyen Kirshenbaum is opening Kirshenbaum Baking Co. on Elm Street, G Lab Aesthetics co-owner and resident Randi Carrozza recently relocated and expanded her business on Elm Street, resident Anastasia Harrison is relocating her architecture and interior design business from Garwood to the offices above G Lab Aesthetics, and residents Allison Reff and Paige Koff are transforming the former Castle Bootery space on Elm Street into The Life by Alli & Paige, a retail store offering luxury lifestyle products. They join many other resident-owned businesses – including The French Martini, Blende,16 Prospect, Ferraro’s, Bovella’s, and the James Ward Mansion, to name a few.
Westfield’s new focus on the arts, reflected in the murals and public art displays that have appeared in the past few years as a result of the formation of the Public Arts Commission, is influencing the retail scene too. We are thrilled to welcome the Wallitsch Art Gallery on Elmer Street, The Gallery on Elm Street, and the return of Westfield’s native son Ricard Roig with the opening of his Ricardo Roig Collection at the Evalyn Dunn Gallery Annex. We expect these to be the first of many arts-focused businesses to come once the Center For Creativity at the Rialto permanently opens its doors, anchoring Westfield as a preeminent arts destination.
The diversity of the new businesses is also encouraging, reflecting a healthy mix of professional services, retail establishments, and restaurants. The new eateries in particular reflect the expectations of residents who have recently relocated from Brooklyn, Jersey City, Hoboken, and Manhattan. Remember when Westfield was considered just a “pizza town?” Not anymore! We can’t wait to welcome Chutzpah Kitchen, La Bendita, Maize Cocktails & Cocina, and Gong Cha to a growing international dining scene which includes newly opened Maya Thai Eatery and existing favorites Spice Bazaar, Buddha Fish, Limani, Splash of Thai, and the expanded Akai.
New bakeries such as Victoria’s Cakes and Kirshenbaum Baking Co., along with trendy ice cream store Surreal Creamery, are also adding exciting new sweet options to our well-known favorite places.
I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that there is a common thread among many of these new businesses — they are owned and operated by women! At a time when the pandemic ravaged the female workforce, forcing many to make impossible decisions between managing a career or caring for the well-being of their family and education of their children, it is personally gratifying to see so many women betting on themselves, and on our community.
What’s next? This summer, you can expect to see the highly anticipated plans from Streetworks Development for their Lord & Taylor property and the North and South Avenue municipal parking lots, following two years of research and planning on their part to deliver a concept that aims to address many of Westfield’s long-unmet needs – expanding and diversifying our tax base, driving additional downtown foot traffic, addressing our parking challenges, upgrading our aging infrastructure, and creating a 21st century post-COVID downtown with the public amenities that our residents want and deserve. After laying the groundwork for this public-private partnership, both Streetworks and the Town look forward to the public input process and exploring the art of what’s possible for Westfield.
Although it is an incredibly exciting and promising time for Downtown Westfield, we still have work to do to ensure that our downtown is set up for long-term and sustainable success. Your input in the upcoming redevelopment proposals is critical to ensuring our downtown will be thriving for the next generation of Westfield residents, and I encourage you to stay engaged. Information will be coming soon on how you can participate.
Thank you for your continued support of our local businesses and for recognizing how important a vibrant downtown is to our community. I look forward to seeing you downtown when Open Quimby returns for the spring and summer, or at one of the many events the DWC has planned for the season. As always, please reach out to me directly with any comments or questions at email@example.com. I love hearing from you!