When in Huntington Station in November, the move sent shock waves through the community. Yet it turned out to be the first ripple in a torrent of closings that have stunned residents and businesses alike.
Huntington Station takes another hit Saturday when the East Jericho Waldbaum's closes its doors after 40 years.
But it's not all doom and gloom, experts say. They see the closings as a fundamental shift in the retail market. The changes in a 2.5-mile stretch along Route 110 and East Jericho Turnpike may even indicate positive trends in real estate prices, a convergence that could knock out old businesses while making way for new ones.
"We’re in a different moment in time in how people do business," said economic insider Steve Rossetti, referring to the battle big-box stores are fighting against online retailers.
Rossetti, who serves as secretary of both the Suffolk Economic Development Corp. and the Suffolk Industrial Development Agency, said more changes will come.
Since November, chain stores – often headquartered several states away – chose not to build or opted to close stores already here, including:
Lowe's, which, after beginning site work, decided not to build on the East Jericho Turnpike spot previously occupied by the Huntington Town House, November.
Barnes & Noble at the Huntington Shopping Center, closed at the end of December.
Toys R Us, at the same center, closed in January.
Harley Davidson Lighthouse, closed in January.
Penzey's spice store, near the Whitman shops, closed in January.
Blockbuster on East Jericho Turnpike closed in February.
Waldbaum's, across the street from the Lighthouse, is closing Saturday after 40 years.
Even a in Huntington Station closed at the beginning of the year. Nearby, a Mandee's closed this week in Melville and an auto dealership recently closed in East Northport.
Huntington Station happens to be the victim of a much larger national pullback as chains consolidate, shutting down their least-productive stores or finding new leases too pricey. Around the country, overdevelopment and changes in technology and shopping styles are blamed for big-box store losses.
Huntington came off pretty well in a field study two years ago, according to Peter Lambert of the Suffolk County Planning Department, who said that the town showed a 9.4 percent vacancy rate compared to 12.3 percent in other parts of the county.
"I'm hoping Huntington is just part of the natural cycle (of change). It just happens to be a coincidental, dark period," he said.
One bright spot might be Walt Whitman Shops, which will announce its expansion details next week even as some long-term tenants, including Sbarro's, Zales Jewelry and McDonald's shut their doors.
Lambert said Simon malls have become more upscale than the non-Simon malls. "They are drawing from high income areas," Lambert said.
Town spokesman A.J. Carter said the mall upgrade is expected to change its assessment. A store vacancy doesn't affect the tax assessment as long as the building remains, Carter said. Even in the case of the Lowe's decision to pull out after knocking down the derelict Huntington Town House building, the assessment remains unaffected.
Carter said the town experienced a 3/4 of one percent decline in the tax base last year.
While several new stores may be on their way, the loss of some long-established businesses could continue.
When the closing of the popular Barnes & Noble store was soon followed by the shutdown of Toys R Us in the Huntington Shopping Center, many residents expressed concern about what was next. But the bookstore's closing was at least in part the result of a rent increase imposed by Federal Realty, the center's landlord. And so, too, Waldbaum's was identified as ripe for a rent increase when Kimco Realty bought Huntington Turnpike Plaza last year. Kimco said it expects to place another grocery store in the Waldbaum's space.
"We're probably going to see some changes in other sectors," Rossetti said. "You’ll see it in electronics, there will be some changes in that sector," and called Best Buy an example of "a sitting duck."
Part of the concern about the changing market reflects worries about the tax base.
Jim Kaden, president of the school board in the South Huntington school district, where most of the changes are occurring, said, "We’ve seen increasing tax assessed valuations declines pretty much every year for last 20 years.
"Every year that goes down everyone else's taxes go up," he said. "The problem we have in the town is that we have very little opportunity to increase the base."
There are some signs of new business in Huntington Station recently as an auto dealership opened on Oakwood Road and construction workers were busy at the Toys R Us and Barnes & Noble stores. In January, opened across the street from the mall; Berry Healthy Cafe opened near the vacant Barnes & Noble.
Rossetti and others remain optimistic about what will come next. "The saying I have is that there’s a person for every seat," he said. "When it comes to a good commercial area, as soon as someone goes out someone else is willing to take a chance."