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Hackensack's Main Street Gets Some Major Press!

People are noticing Main Street in Hackensack; this is great news for everyone who lives, works, and visits here! Hackensack’s Main Street gets some major press and we have it all for you below.

Recently, NorthJersey.com / Bergen Record, spent a day with John T. Peters, our Executive Director. John and the photographer walked up and down Main Street and stopped in to see many of the business owners on Main.

The nearly full-page article also included a video and image gallery. The video and the full text of the article appear below.

Full Article Text

(HACKENSACK — Benito Rivero, the owner of Casual Habana, remembers when the city’s downtown would go quiet by 5 p.m. Now, as new apartment buildings fill with tenants, there’s more life on Main Street in the evenings, he said.

“It’s a completely different place than what it was,” said Rivero, who opened his Cuban restaurant on Main Street in 2007. “People would come in from the courthouse and then it would empty out. We’re starting to get a lot more business. We’re the busiest we’ve ever been.”

That vibrancy is what city officials hoped for when they set out to revitalize Hackensack’s Main Street and reverse its decades-long decline.

About three years ago, the city completed the conversion of Main Street back to two-way traffic. When the street changed to one-way in the 1970s, businesses “I want to see a busy downtown that the city can be proud of. I drive down Main Street almost every day. I see people jogging, people walking their dogs, it’s a whole different vibe, and the merchants are feeling the benefits.”

Mayor John Labrosse were already struggling to compete with the Paramus malls.

Before the malls opened in the mid-1950s and began siphoning customers away from downtowns, Hackensack’s Main Street, with its two movie theaters, department stores and variety of small shops, was a destination for Bergen County shoppers.

“When I was a kid, Hackensack was happening,” said Mayor John Labrosse, who grew up in the city. “Then the malls came in, and all downtowns took a hit. When it was one-way, people were flying down Main Street, using it as a thoroughfare instead of a shopping area. You want your downtown to have a little bit of traffic so people can see what’s there.”

The traffic pattern change coincided with a massive infrastructure project along Main Street to improve the sewers and drainage to fix longstanding flooding issues and replace curbs and lighting as apartment buildings began being built.

Now, many of those buildings are open and filled with tenants, putting more than 3,000 new residents on Main Street, with more coming as redevelopment continues to boom downtown, Labrosse said.

“I want to see a busy downtown that the city can be proud of,” Labrosse said. “I drive down Main Street almost every day. I see people jogging, people walking their dogs, it’s a whole different vibe, and the merchants are feeling the benefits.”

John Peters, director of the Main Street Business Alliance, said business owners outside of Hackensack are looking at the city with fresh eyes and choosing to open, and some longtime Main Street businesses are seeing an increase in foot traffic.

“The strides that have been made on Main Street over the past 10 years have been amazing. It feels like we’re on the 10-yard line,” he said. “You no longer have to leave Main Street to find what you need.”

One of the first things Peters did when he came to Hackensack in December 2022 was shift away from the nickname “The Sack,” a moniker that was met with a mixed reception in 2020 when it was announced as part of a rebranding of Main Street, to simply “Downtown Hackensack.”

“I needed the topic of discussion to come off the table,” he said. “We keep talking about the name and we have more important things to do here. Let’s keep it simple.”

Attracting new business to downtown Hackensack

Peters has been working with property owners to encourage pop-up shops to open in vacant storefronts as a way for businesses to try out the area.

“The beautiful thing is that many turn into longer-term tenants,” he said.

More than 10 businesses have taken part in a grant program over the past year providing money to spruce up their storefronts or replace old signage.

Peters also started a “block ambassadors” program to give business owners on each block responsibility to report something in need of repair or cleaning.

Some police officers are now assigned to walk Main Street as a beat and get to know residents and business owners and address any problems.

“We can talk to them. They know us, we know them and if something’s wrong, we can tell them,” said Andranik Eskandarian, an owner of Birkenmeier Sport Shop. “It gives you security.”

Eskandarian said as Main Street has gotten busier, parking has become more of a challenge for his customers.

The city is working to improve access to parking, with repairs to the Atlantic Street parking garage and by working with developers to build public parking garages as part of their projects.

In July, the Main Street Business Alliance released a trend report, based on a survey of about 1,400, about what they want to see downtown.

Almost 90% of the respondents said they wanted more businesses to stay open later. Many also said they want more places, like comedy clubs or coffee shops to meet friends and hang out. That data is being used to plan events, and was shared with businesses considering coming to Hackensack, Peters said.

The owners of Emma, a restaurant that opened in November, plan to expand before the start of summer with a café offering breakfast and lunch with space for people to work or get together with friends.

The restaurant, which also has locations in Englewood and Edgewater, gets a lot of regulars who live in the new buildings, said Danilo Lavia, the marketing manager.

“We’ve gotten a lot of people telling us they’re happy we opened,” he said. “I don’t think there’s anything like what we’re doing in the area — casual fine dining with a full cocktail bar.”

LeVar Thomas opened his shop, Iconic Coffee, about a year ago, drawn to Hackensack by the redevelopment. He’s hoping Main Street will eventually become as busy as Ridgewood and other thriving downtowns, he said.

“Business has been good, but it can always be better,” he said. “I’m hoping this summer there will be an uptick in people walking when the weather is nice. There’s a whole bunch to explore on Main Street.”

Peters said the business alliance is planning events to draw more people to the downtown.

Lunch under the Sun, where restaurants offered free lunch to encourage diners to try different eateries, was popular last summer and will return this year. Sacktoberfest, the annual fall festival, has drawn big crowds.

Other planned events include weekly game nights at Main Street restaurants and cafes, a scavenger hunt for Fairleigh Dickinson University students, and Banta Place will close to traffic on Saturdays this summer for music and salsa dancing.

Rivero, the owner of Casual Habana, said he’s noticed more foot traffic in the evenings recently, and a demographic change.

“I’m right in the middle of the redevelopment,” he said. “It’s a much younger city, and more affluent.”

A bit more work is needed in Hackensack

Main Street’s transformation hasn’t benefited all businesses equally. Some longtime businesses have closed or moved to make way for redevelopment. Others are still waiting for the influx of new customers.

But Peters said businesses continue to open, and as more tenants move into apartments downtown, those people are looking to discover restaurants and shops they can walk to.

Suburban downtowns like Hackensack’s must compete with the easy parking, food courts and retail options malls offer.

But city officials believe with a bit more work, Main Street can capture some of the magic of its heyday and thrive.

“The goal is to make downtown Hackensack a destination,” Labrosse said. “We want an atmosphere where people can walk, shop, get a burger or beer or have a nice dinner. We’re getting there.”

© NorthJersey.com – USA TODAY NETWORK Licensed from IMAGN and used with permission. Link to original article can be found here: https://www.northjersey.com/story/news/bergen/hackensack/2024/05/03/hackensack-nj-main-street-shopping-things-to-do/72745162007/

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