Things are looking up for Red Bank’s downtown. All along Broad and Monmouth streets construction is under way, and not just the roadwork that’s been a regular feature throughout the downtown for the past several months. Buildings are being gutted, signs are being erected and, the hope is, downtown Red Bank is back on the upward trend that’s defined much of its past two decades.
Coming off the recent successful Red Bank Guinness Oyster Festival, Nancy Adams, executive director of the Red Bank RiverCenter, said what you see downtown is the culmination of hard work from landlords and tenants, the borough and RiverCenter, and the downtown business community at large.
Though several prominent downtown locations still have brown paper in tape to their windows or for rent signs hanging up in their doors, Adams said she doesn’t expect it to remain like that for much longer.
“I think everything is one the upswing and has been for a while,” she said recently. “There are several businesses that are coming in to town and others that we’re in discussion with. A lot of those spaces downtown that look like vacancies are the result of businesses relocating here.”
What promises to be downtown Red Bank’s most anticipated opening of the year – should work be completed this year – is Char steakhouse. For several months construction workers have been working on the site, formerly home to Ashes Cigar Club, completely reforming the space into a modern restaurant and longue that should serve to entice visitors to Red Bank.
With Red Bank’s already large number of diverse eateries in its downtown, Adams believes Char will help grow the borough’s identity as a destination for great cuisine, one worth traveling for.
Char isn’t alone in its move to the downtown. In the past year, the space formerly occupied by Zebu Forno is now home to two shops, one clothier Lucki Clover and, soon, a boardwalk burger joint. Zebu relocated just down the street and closed soon after, but reopened as a brick oven pizzeria. And in the space that served as home for kitsch retailer Funk and Standard for years, Greene Street, a growing consignment chain the originated in Philadelphia, has set up shop. Funk and Standard, meanwhile, relocated and rebranded as Yummy Good just down the street.
Those are just a few of the several business moves in recent months along Broad, Monmouth, White and Front Street, the core of Red Bank’s downtown.
The rapid turnaround for many of these businesses, Adams said, is attributable to work between landlords and tenants, often times before zoning and planning approvals make the moves official.
“Trying to open a business is never a 100 percent sure thing. In the case of Green Street, the property owner was able to get started and get going on the build out,” Adams said. “That landlord was wonderful in helping them start up by starting demo prior to zoning approval.”
Unfortunately, Adams said, that’s not always the case. While the downtown boasts a vacancy rate of about 5 percent, according to Councilman Mike DuPont, there are some properties that have been vacant for quite some time. But, Adams said, those who want to make it work, do.
Storefronts, like those still carrying the signs of Marisa and Chic Optique, among others, have been empty for years. RiverCenter has been in contact with owners of unoccupied buildings and have promised to help work to find tenants and get appropriate borough approvals.
Sometimes, that’s not enough, however.
“The property owners have a responsibility, too,” she said. “It’s an easy thing to say and it’s been said before, but their needs to be the effort.”
While unruly landlords pose a problem, it’s hardly wide spread. Generally there’s an effort among various entities to work together. Among those entities is RiverCenter, which is tasked with marketing the downtown as well as serving as a liaison of sorts between businesses and the borough. Though the organization isn’t signing the dotted line when it comes to bringing retail and dining downtown, it does pursue business opportunities and helps prospective businesses find available property in Red Bank.
Currently, Adams said one of the goals is trying to find a right balance of dining and retail. When it comes to retail, especially, the balance is needed between local retailers and national retailers. On one hand, national retail outlets are shown to have a broader appeal, traditionally, while local retailers are necessary for downtowns like Red Bank’s to preserve their charm and avoid becoming a downtown strip mall.
“You need to have those independent retailers to give you something different, something you can’t find everywhere else. That’s important,” she said. “It’s important to be able to fill those little niches on a lot of different levels.”
Meanwhile, work for RiverCenter and Red Bank’s downtown continues.
“We’re working all the time here. We pursue leads; if someone inquires we provide them with the information they need; sometimes we reach out (to businesses) on behalf of our property owners,” she said. “We’re constantly on the look out.”