Keeping a business open for more than 30 years might not be a walk in the park, but a short stroll down Rye’s Purchase Street offers a glimpse at what thrives in its current-day business climate. With local dining favorites like Frankie & Johnnies, Village Social, and Ruby’s Oyster Bar standing tall, there’s a clear surge in service-based businesses flourishing in the area.
Rob Woodrow, co-owner of R&M Woodrow Jewelers and seasoned Purchase Street business owner, holds a wealth of knowledge regarding the ever-shifting commercial climate Rye has seen in the past few decades. In 1985 things were different, and as we walked down Purchase Street in 2018, Woodrow spoke to how business has changed and where he hopes it will go.
How long has Woodrow Jewelers been in business on Purchase Street?
We’ve been here 33 years.
What was the business atmosphere like when you first started?
Foot traffic has decreased. We used to be so busy all the time and now, partially because of the internet … I would say a lot of it has to do with the internet. People make purchases online as an easy thing to do.
And what about the number of businesses?
There were a lot more businesses, a lot more retail businesses. Now, a lot of it has turned to service businesses, like nail salons and hair salons and banks and really service-oriented things, and restaurants.
Photo by Mike Martinelli
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Has this changed because of online commerce?
No doubt about it.
What are some businesses from 30-plus years ago that you are surprised or happy to see still around?
One that’s stuck around that’s really dynamite is Rye Camera which, to us, that represents old Rye. Arcade Books, too, represents something that isn’t here anymore. Now people do buy books online all the time, so that they do go back to [Arcade] is a nice thing.
We certainly are in that same category, when people want jewelry, they come to us. We have built up over the years this consistent clientele and their kids, and that is still there.
Feinsod Hardware used to be right down the street; people would come in for little things that they needed in hardware. When we first started there was a five-and-ten across the street, Woolworth’s, and that was a draw.
That was something people would come to town for. Town would be a social event. It would be a sport, too, for people. Two women going out for an afternoon, going window shopping, whatever it is that you’re doing, it was a fun event. It doesn’t happen anymore, or it happens so rarely.
Then what do you think Rye can do to facilitate people coming into town?
The big thing is paying for parking.* There should be no deterrents based on people having to spend for it. Retail really needs there to be no deterrent that way. There has to be something that makes it very easy for somebody to come in, not a pain in the neck to throw money in a meter.
That is, to me, one of the keys to this. If you’re driving through town, it’s not so much the money that it costs, it’s just to have to deal with that. It shouldn’t be. You want to make it user friendly for people.
*The Rye City Council has agreed to waive meter parking in all parking lots in downtown Rye as well as time limit parking from December 19 – 24 for Christmas shopping. Limit of 4 hours.*
What do you think the current biggest draw of Purchase Street is?
There’s still something special about downtown areas. There’s Poppy’s Café which is right over here. There’s a group of people that go there every single day and they have utilized the restaurant.
All of the restaurants that are around here, Rafele just opened up and is a wonderful, really great place to go. They’re all in their own way a draw, and people that have lived here for so many years love to come to their downtown.
The thing is those people and the amount of people are shrinking. The audience shrinks all the time, it shrinks and there’s less and less people walking through the door. Less and less people that are actually coming to Rye, which used to be more. They’re still taking up the parking spaces! But they’re not coming like they used to.
This is November 29, and we’re standing having here having a conversation like this. We could have never had this conversation 10 years ago, 15 years ago because I would be so busy, we would be so busy in here as a store.
So then what do you truly hope for business on Purchase Street?
I think there’s going to be a backlash. The backlash will be: Let’s say you’re buying earrings for your significant other. You come in here and you select it and you buy it and bring it to her, you present it. She says, “that’s special.” On the other hand, you order it online, you have it sent to the house, it didn’t require you to do anything for it. It’s just clicking, the romance is missing from it.
And I think the romance is what gift giving is all about. So, my guess is that’s going to propel people to change.
We’re not going anywhere, we’re going to be here. We might have less traffic coming in, but we’re still doing business, we’re still going to do business, and were not going anywhere in that respect.
There’s going to be some sort of change, at least I hope, sooner or later.