A special permit request for Value Drugs to use public and private sidewalk space to display seasonal merchandise ran into resistance from residents and board members at the Huntington Zoning Board of Appeals meeting Thursday night.
The permit would allow the general store to place lawn chairs, umbrellas, show shovels, holiday decorations, and other products outside their stores in both Greenlawn and Huntington to lure in customers in. The Huntington location would advertise on the seven-foot-wide New Street sidewalk; the Greenlawn store already displays outdoor furniture in front of its doorway and along the sidewalk illegally.
The founder of Value Drugs said the permit was necessary for him to remain competitive, while residents said the outdoor displays were an eyesore that ruined the feel of the communities and board members worried that granting permission would set a dangerous precedent.
Michael McCarthy, an attorney representing Value Drugs, called the business "one of Huntington's great success stories" and urged the board to consider the request and alter it if need be. He added that his client would be willing to compromise and would mark off the display areas with paint or railings.
But several on the board expressed concern about allowing the practice to continue. Robert Slingo said that the photos provided by the applicant of white lawn chairs lined outside the Greenlawn store showed poor taste.
Board member Scott Rayner said he didn't think it was necessary for the health of the business to display goods outdoor. "I'm not sure you need to see the stuff out on the street to know what merchandise they are selling inside."
"You might not know you need an umbrella until you see it," McCarthy responded.
Rayner, who lives near the Greenlawn store, also said he was worried granting a permit would lead to more outdoor displays from other shops.
"It opens the floodgates for other stores to do the same thing," he said.
Christopher Modelewski, the board chair, saw issues with criteria of the permit that required the displays must be in the public interest.
"I just don't understand how the public health and welfare are supported by having the visual of an umbrella," he said.
Value Drugs founder Peter Pastorelli was the last witness, and said that that he after 40 years in the business he was in "a very difficult business situation."
"I only know that my competitors are doing it," he said of other illegal displays, "I have to be competitive."
He also said he runs his businesses with the interests of the community in mind. Pastorelli owns seven different drug stores across Long Island and in New York City. He also cautioned that if the permit were denied, he may have to close his stores.
"You'll have a vacancy in Huntington and you'll have a vacancy in Greenlawn," he warned.
Phyllis Austrian, of 22 Greenlawn Rd., didn't buy it.
"They don't need to clutter the street to show everyone they now have patio furniture," she said during the public hearing.
Austrian added that the outdoor displays undid the work of neighborhood organizations to beautify Greenlawn village.
"[I've] never seen the village look so cheap, tacky, and trashy," she said forcefully. She spared no harsh words for Value Drugs itself.
"It's a junk store," she said, "or a 99 cent store wannabe."
Austrian's sister Janet also spoke at the hearing. Janet uses a cane, and said the displays, especially the proposed displays in Huntington, represented a risk to handicapped people.
"I could trip over those chairs, frankly," she said.
Another neighbor, Lynn Hefele, said the character of the area has been changed by Value Drugs and other chains entering the shopping area and took issue with Pastorelli's claim that his stores are community oriented.
"It's not mom and pop anymore," she said
The manager of the CVS store across the street also spoke during the hearing to oppose another request by Value Drugs to exempt them from having to add two more parking spaces, which McCarthy said was impossible.
Tom McDonald took issue with parking spaces in what he said was nothing more than a loading dock. He also implied a double standard between the two competing businesses.
"I don't know why they can do that and we can't," he said.
The board deferred the final decision to a later date.
After the hearing, Pastorelli said the displays were a way for Value Drugs to stay ahead of the competition and "reinvent themselves."