Circuit City, Linen’s N Things, Bombay, KB Toys. And the hits just keep on coming. After extensive research the only common thread I can seem to find is that none of these retailers advertised in the Long Island Press. There must be a link. Okay, seriously. We’re witnessing history as the collateral damage from bank failures and imploding mortgages widens and threatens more than just our consumer existence. But let’s stay in the retail space for a moment.
Retail closures are the lay-person’s doomsday harbinger. Every “For Rent” or “Everything Must Go” sign signals the collapse of our dubious distinction as the world’s consumer. It is impossible to escape these images and everyone knows someone who has been affected. Less like a train wreck and more like watching a friend slowly sink in quicksand, retail closings enter our consciousness and give the impression that what lies below the surface must be even worse than what we can see with our eyes.
Long Islanders, having witnessed several big box retailers shutter, have been able to sit hesitantly on the sidelines without much skin in the game. The small but steady loss of local retailers has certainly occurred here but almost imperceptibly over time due to the skyrocketing housing, job and stock markets that have warmed us like an illusory blanket of wealth. Now the news is creeping ever closer to home. Fortunoff has long been a mainstay of Long Island retail both commercially and emotionally. For generations this is where families purchased memories in the form of engagement rings and housewares for new families. You didn’t have to ask where the bride and groom were registered – you just had to give the clerk their names. Even the most ardent anti-consumer LI’er would have to admit that this store was a gem and a landmark. A local family made good.
It’s important to note, however, that the closing of this institution is still on the periphery of retail failures that are close to home. The family who maintained this venerable institution had already sold the company to a larger concern that lost touch with the values that made the Fortunoff name synonymous with successful retailing. In essence we had already lost Fortunoff. But the message is clear. As a founding member of the kioli movement we have been beating the local movement drum often and unapologetically. When big box stores move in to a community, especially one as large as ours, there are benefits and there are downsides. We’re beginning to witness the downside of gigantic vacant stores and empty parcels of land. The promise of large tax revenue is lost in the wind when these stores go out of business. On the other hand, even a vacant big box still looks better to me than yet another strip mall.
Long Island has long suffered from poor planning and a difficult infrastructure complicated by overwhelming automotive traffic. Now our landscape is dotted with vacancies in our strip malls and empty box stores and you don’t have to be an economist to predict what will happen next. As consumer spending and retail margins continue to tighten our local retailers will be further compromised. This is guerilla warfare. We dodged a bullet with Fortunoff as they were already lost and no longer “kioli”. Are you prepared for “Out of Business” signs in the windows of P.C. Richard, King Kullen, or Hildreth’s? I’m not.
Kioli stands for Keep It On Long Island. Let’s get to it.