Island Discount, offering a huge inventory of cheap dry goods, opened its doors on Tuesday. It fills a long empty storefront once occupied by a stationery store. Although well-stocked, it presents a raw, cluttered look more akin to an extremely well-stocked garage sale. But it may tell us something important about Main Street retail.
by David Stone
Island Discount, where pot fumes drift in through the vents from the head shop next door, is the latest signal that the Shops On Main ideal is gone.
The “shock and awe” promise given The Wall Street Journal by Hudson president David Kramer when his group took over Main Street retail was never realistic. Not to anyone who lived here and regularly walked through the canyon. Not to say it wasn’t well-intended, but it probably rested on trust. Ultimate landlord RIOC still pushed dishonest population figures and visions of flourishing foot traffic.
Truth now fits the cliche: “It is what it is.”
That is, Restoration Hardware isn’t coming. Ever. And neither is another urgent care operation. We are what we are, and population is what it is.
Inside Island Discount
Traffic was steady, if light, on Wednesday as people first learned that the new, well-lit store was open. Shoppers found an abundance of goods stocked in large quantities. Looking for a bargain? You’ll find plenty.
What you won’t find is design or decor. This outlet is poised for impulse buys with plenty available. Come in for a screwdriver; come out with a month’s worth of toilet paper and laundry detergent.
Now that Shops On Main has lost its Shops On Main esthetic, some Roosevelt Islanders, especially around the WIRE buildings, express concerns that what’s becoming of the community’s center is more like the South Bronx than Manhattan.
While that sentiment is far from universal, it resonates on a strip featuring a nameless head shop and a we-do-anything dry cleaner that can’t do dry cleaning anymore. It’s a scramble where there’s plenty of question about who’s actually paying rent and how much and who’s getting evicted.
An easy argument is that Main Street retail has not gotten better after over a decade under Hudson-Related, which spent years chasing an impossible vision for the street and now must accept reality. Clumsily.
It’s reinforced, apart from the dreary strip undermining Island House’s values, by a huge loss of retail space across the street. While Wholesome Factory has long been successful and a Mediterranean Eatery is a fine new addition, storefronts have been replaced by other operations.
The most notable is RIOC’s depressing, frosted glass fronted fortress lacking even enough pride of place for putting up a sign in front.
The Changing Face of Main Street
Only one area holds bragging rights. A string of businesses beneath Rivercross looks lively, especially since the arrival of Island Om. But it begs the question – is Hudson-Related favoring a single building by placing impressive shops while others, like Island House, get the South Bronx feel?
It’s unsettled and begging for open discussion, something we rarely have on Roosevelt Island. But maybe it’s time for figuring out what the community, not the government and favored developers, want.