I love our town. It’s dripping with charm, rich in history and screams America. One visit downtown will have you wanting to wave miniature American flags in both hands while singing “My Country Tis of Thee.” Having grown up in South Florida, where American history is limited to Native Americans and Henry Flagler‘s East Coast Railroad, it’s pretty awesome knowing that Revolutionary War battles were fought in the foothills right outside of our town. It’s why I always stop and gander at the old time photos that line the tunnel underneath the train tracks.
With each passing year, more and more young families are trading in their cramped New York City apartments for homes and what they hope is an acceptable commute to and from their jobs back in the city. Our town, and those surrounding it, make for attractive places to settle down because they are right on the verge of being (subjectively) too long of a commute. The door to door is a bit over an hour assuming you don’t get jammed up from a traffic accident or some BS train issue. I believe this little detail give us a slight break in property values compared to towns closer to the city and with more direct transit and, because of this, home demand has remained relatively strong.
Millennials are making their way to the burbs and with them their needs and demands as well. I feel that for many longtime residents, accepting these demands is hard and appears especially difficult for those who have been living here for 30+ years. Memories of how things once were — and opinions on how things ought to be — die hard, meaning the older folks generally prefer that things stay the same in order to remain comfortable in the place they’ve called home for so long. To them, an *invasion* of Millennials with a completely different set of consumer preferences is jarring, to say the least. But why should that stop us from evolving? No ma’am, the lunch counter at Woolworths is not coming back.
The biggest corporate tax payer in town is Hudson’s Bay, the landlord of a large stand-alone Lord & Taylor. Ironically, America’s oldest department store is slated to be sold to Le Tote, an online retail clothing subscription service, for $100 million. While our location is safe from closure for two years, most young families I know aren’t too upset over the inevitable loss because, as the Le Tote acquisition suggests, online shopping has largely replaced department stores anyway. Nonetheless, it’s eventual closure has regenerated advocacy for a new multilevel parking garage to help alleviate our town’s worsening parking problem.
The current wait for a parking decal at the train station is approximately five years, which has led residents to use the enormous Lord & Taylor parking lots for unofficial commuter parking. Yet, despite there being a clear demand for additional parking spaces to accommodate the increasing inflow of young professionals, town *traditionalists* scoff at the idea of a parking structure, citing everything from it being an eyesore (there’s been no proposed design) to loss of retail space (no retailer is ever moving back into the space) to the diminishment of the town’s charm (the current building was never all that charming to begin with). None of these objections provide any real solutions to a current and growing problem. The complaints are literally the equivalent of someone shouting, “Get off my lawn!”
This isn’t a one-off incident either. Another example can be found at our historic downtown movie theater. While the brand new XD theater right outside of town is a better way to enjoy the movie-going experience, the same traditionalists are vehemently upset that our quaint but dilapidated theater is shutting down. Sure, it’s a local institution that’s been around forever, but that doesn’t mean we can ignore the shift that’s taking place right in front of us. And while the business itself can’t stay, the building can. But many of these hardos refuse to get remotely creative with how to repurpose the space and adapt to the change in demand. They don’t need to look too far to see that a space like this would be ripe for other forms of entertainment like live performances or independent art paired with food and drink. Instead, they fight the trend tooth and nail.
Similarly, building a new parking structure can be more than just level after level of parking spots. It can offer commercial space on the bottom level, which would be perfect for providing commuters with additional conveniences. Simple things like a bagel shop, shoe repair or dry cleaner would work wonders here. And just imagine if there was a shared workspace or a few conference rooms to rent. That’s not a bad idea considering you never know when inclement weather or train delays could prevent you from getting into the city. Again, you don’t need to think too far outside of the box to find something that can appease most people.
What’s happening in Westfield is just a microcosm of what’s happening all over the country. Consumer preferences are rapidly changing to meet the demands of a Gen-X and Millennial led workforce, which then bleeds into the local communities we’ve selected to escape to. We’re not killing businesses just to kill them, I think we’re simply finding better and more efficient ways to do what our parents and grandparents have already done. I think our relationship and access to technology has allowed us to do that faster than ever before and that is why accepting and embracing change has become so difficult for today’s older generations today.