What will Maplewood look like in the next five, 10, 50 years?
That question is at the heart of a new initiative the township is launching to fill what elected officials see as a vast, unmet retail demand, while taking a proactive approach to shape the business landscape for decades to come.
The township unveiled its plan at a breakfast gathering of the local business and real estate community on Monday. Mayor Vic DeLuca and Mark Lohbauer, a principal at JGSC, consultants hired by the township, led the meeting.
"Too many shoppers, not enough stores," said Lohbauer, summing up his firm's overall assessment. Lohbauer said JGSC had calculated a $2.2 billion unmet retail demand among people living within a 10-mile radius of Maplewood.
He singled out the advantages of the township's two main retail corridors — Maplewood Village and Springfield Avenue — including improved streetscapes, surrounding affluent populations and strong business improvement districts.
But, he said, "we need a better mix."
The township will try to attract retailers in certain categories such as home furnishings, sporting goods and restaurants.
"We can work with property owners to recruit these types of stores rather than another salon or convenience store," said DeLuca.
Lohbauer said the plan included a strong push for "high-end" business recruitment.
"We are looking to avoid check cashing, tattoo parlors, nail salons and pizza places," he said. "We have plenty of those."
A list of preliminary retail prospects includes a wide variety of retailers such as HomeGoods, The Container Store, Pier 1, TJ Maxx, Marshalls, Bertucci's Brick Oven Pizza, T.G.I. Fridays, Five Guys, Chipotle's, Hale & Hearty Soups, Curves and EMS. A complete list of prospects is attached as a PDF to this article.
The township is currently reaching out to a number of these prospects by postcard and letter. Lohbauer asked the brokers in the audience to also be proactive in reaching out to retailers.
The plan calls for fashioning the village into an "entertainment destination" with a mix of high-end boutiques, while attracting larger retailers and chains to Springfield Avenue to make it a viable alternative to a shopping mall.
"One of the things we want to convey to both property owners and real estate brokers is that they can seek high-end retail establishments and do not have to take the first offers that come their way," said DeLuca in a follow up interview.
Lohbauer noted while Springfield Avenue doesn't currently have a space for a big box store such as a Target, the township is willing to talk to developers to create the right space for a suitable tenant.
"This retail recruitment campaign is designed to focus on Maplewood as a whole – One Maplewood – rather than its parts," said DeLuca. "It talks about the vitality of the entire town, recognizing the unique characteristics and strengths of each commercial area."
Verjus owner Jane Witkin expressed concern about Springfield Avenue's "impediments to success" which she listed as a lack of contiguous properties, no tax incentives and the current 35-mile-per-hour speed limit.
DeLuca emphasized Maplewood should attract shoppers that reflect the area's economic diversity.
"We are not just a white, upper-class community," DeLuca said, noting the area's large Caribbean population as an example.
"Walgreens is a case in point," said DeLuca later. "It serves people from Maplewood and adjacent towns...if we can bring in a national, full-service, family chain restaurant or national brand furniture store, that will help all of us and meet the needs of Maplewood's already economic and racially diverse population."