Despite recent news from the New York State Department of Labor that shows signs of recovery for Long Island's recession-battered economy, most Bedford Avenue business owners agree that business is still sluggish along Bellmore's main thoroughfare.
While some local merchants point to a rise in empty storefronts, still others say that vacancy rates along Bedford Avenue have traditionally followed the ups and downs of the local economy.
"The economy is still crap," said Steve Chernoff, owner of Bedford Office Supplies and Stationery for more than 20 years. "Many people just aren't taking money out of their pockets."
Chernoff added that many businesses have recently relocated, including Allstate Insurance's Conneely Agency to Grand Avenue and George Parson's Home Improvement Store to Merrick Road.
Ron Mare, president of the Bellmore Chamber of Commerce and also owner of Hardwood Floors of Bellmore for the past 10 years, said he's not worried by the recent spate of business closings in the area.
"There's always big turnover on Bedford Avenue," he said. "I'm not alarmed. We're actually doing well considering these difficult economic times."
Mare chalked up the recent business closings to the still turbulent economy, both on the Island and across the nation. He also noted that competition from big box retail stores such as Target, Wal-Mart and Home Depot has also taken its toll on local businesses.
"It's not easy for small businesses to compete," Mare said.
But, Mare also said that new businesses are still opening. Two new restaurants, Jimmy Jacks NY and Umbertos of New Hyde Park are scheduled to open soon along Bedford Avenue.
Dave Morris, co-owner of Jimmy Jacks burger joint, said that he plans to open the restaurant, located at 221 Bedford, in a matter of weeks.
"We're just waiting for a final round of inspections," said Morris, a retired Wall Street executive who will run the restaurant with his brother Dan. "We can't wait to open, this has been a long-time dream come true."
Mare said that the opening of Umbertos Pizza and Italian Restaurant was farther away, although he was unsure of any specific date. Repeated calls to Umberto's management were not returned.
Nick Genovese, owner of Bedford Wine & Liquor since August 2009, said that business overall has been fairly decent.
"I know some businesses have gone out around here, but generally things are starting to improve," he said. "I hope things continue to pick up."
Hempstead Town Councilman Gary Hudes is also confident that business in the area will indeed improve.
"Empty storefronts are cyclical and although this has been a more serious cycle, this situation will improve as the economy does," Hudes said, who is also the owner of Gennaro Jewelers on Bedford Avenue and architect of a downtown revitalization effort. "Business will again start to invest in expansion and individuals will try their hand at self-ownership." He also noted that approximately 15 years ago, one out of every three stores in Bellmore Village was vacant.
Speaking about Bellmore Village's revitalization, Hudes said that key to the effort is to attract "destination" or "anchor" stores that can draw volumes of customers and also work together as a group of businesses to help improve business throughout the area.
Moreover, Hudes explained that local businesses have distinct advantages over their larger competitors.
"In many cases you are dealing directly with the owner and with that type of personal oversight, they have the ability to bend over backwards for you," he said.
He also added that local businesses can provide better service, personalized attention and added value for the money.
"In addition, when a resident does business with an 'out-of-state' online business, that money is going out-of-state and staying there," Hudes said. "Money spent at local businesses stays in the community and supports other businesses, local little league teams, PTA fundraisers and our tax base."