Vacant storefronts have practically disappeared from downtown Mount Kisco. New beautification areas are literally blooming everywhere, while pedestrian-friendly streetscapes encourage vital foot traffic. New restaurants and retailers are opening next door to — and with the blessings of — 100-year-old establishments.
And if that’s not exciting enough, downtown Mount Kisco has been rezoned to accept residential development that promises to supercharge the economic climate.
“We recognize that helping businesses be successful is really, really important,” says Mayor Gina Picinich, whose election in 2017 set off a cascade of new thinking about doing business in the village, which was expressed in a comprehensive plan adopted in February of this year and a major zoning re-set in the business district that was approved in April. “The new attitude,” Picinich says, “is to welcome businesses and to create an environment that sustains existing businesses.” Her outlook is undoubtedly shaped by her previous position as executive director of the Mount Kisco Chamber of Commerce.
The town and coterminous village of Mount Kisco is small but bustling. The population of about 11,000 swells to more than 20,000 during the daytime, fueled by out-of-town employees, shoppers, diners, and healthcare consumers. According to the town’s comprehensive plan, about 26% of the working population commutes to NYC, a trip made easier by the Metro-North station downtown. On the other hand, more than 90% of the 8,900 jobs in Mount Kisco are filled by out-of-towners (including 10% who reverse commute from the city).
The largest single contributor to the local economy is the healthcare sector. Northern Westchester Hospital (NWH), by far the largest employer in town, contributes nearly $500 million in economic benefits statewide, according to research provided by the Healthcare Association of NYS. NWH CEO/president Joel Seligman says the hospital employs 1,600 people (including those on its campus at Chappaqua Crossing), plus 1,000 physicians and 300 volunteers. Adds Seligman, whose annual payroll at NWH is $165 million, “We’re a big employer, but right down the block is CareMount and plenty of other [employers] in town.”
Seligman points out that healthcare’s contributions to the local economy aren’t just as an employer: “Because of Northern Westchester Hospital and CareMount’s growth and success, Mount Kisco has become a medical destination. A surprising number of our patients come from not just 10 miles away but from 25 or even 50 miles away. [The healthcare institutions are] bringing visitors to the community who are eating in our restaurants, staying in our hotels.”
Strikingly, total retail sales of $526 million exceed expenditures of local residents by a whopping $333 million, a number aided by the many car dealers in town, but also a strong indicator of the impact of both inbound commuters, patients, and shoppers from the surrounding communities. Mount Kisco locals account for about half of the town’s food-and-drink sales of $41 million.
“In a very tricky, ever-changing retail environment, there is no other town in Northern Westchester I would rather be in,” says Dawn-Marie Manwaring, owner of beehive designer collective, a unique gift shop she purchased in 2012. “It has the train station, parkway, and I-684. We’re sandwiched between many other communities. Local residents support the store, but I also get a lot of shoppers from Pound Ridge and Bedford and other nearby communities, like Chappaqua and Katonah. All those things point to making Mount Kisco a good place to be.”
“We recognize that helping businesses be successful is really, really important. The new attitude is to welcome businesses and to create an environment that sustains existing businesses.”
—Mayor Gina Picinich
“Mount Kisco has a little bit of everything,” says KeyBank branch manager Robert Cipriano. “There’s healthcare, residential development, plenty of car dealerships, entertainment, recreation. New restaurants are coming in regularly. The business community is thriving.”
“I’ve been here for 51 years,” observes restaurateur Isi Albanese, who was elected to the town council with Picinich in 2017. “I grew up here, and I’ve seen Mount Kisco go through a lot of changes. Until a couple of years ago, people weren’t excited about the town. Now, we have open arms. We want to do business with you. Come to Mount Kisco, bring your concept, and build it.” Albanese opened his first business in the village in 1991, a restaurant he converted in 2016 to Exit 4 Food Hall, a unique eatery on Main Street.
Location may be one of Mount Kisco’s plusses, but the traffic it brings is one of the town’s minuses. As the comprehensive plan points out, traffic bound for nearby towns from I-684 and the Saw Mill River Parkway funnels through the business district and adds to congestion. The town’s main north/south corridor, Route 117 (or North Bedford Road/Main Street), carries more than 16,000 vehicles daily. On the other hand, there’s plenty of parking throughout the business district, so shoppers and diners are encouraged to enjoy the town’s walkability.
Healthcare and retailing may be Mount Kisco’s largest economic sectors, but the town is also home to several high-tech manufacturers with worldwide reach, including Photo File, a manufacturer of licensed sports photography, Zierick Manufacturing, which engineers connecting devices for multiple uses, and Curtis Instruments, which designs and manufactures electric vehicle systems.
Curtis Instruments employs about 100 people at its headquarters in Mount Kisco, but the company’s global reach includes more than 1,100 employees in 13 subsidiary companies in the U.S., Europe, and Asia. “We have deep roots in the community,” says CEO Stuart Marwell, whose father founded the firm in 1960 with partner Curt Beusman (who later left the firm to launch the popular nearby gym Saw Mill Club). In addition to being one of Mount Kisco’s largest employers, Curtis Instruments impacts the community through extensive support of nonprofits, like the Boys & Girls Club, Mount Kisco Childcare Center, Neighbors Link, Northern Westchester Hospital’s Caregivers Center, and the Community Center of Northern Westchester, among others.
Marwell believes the town is on the right track in terms of development. “The new master plan for the village is very promising,” he says. “The new administration is very enabling for getting things done for the community.”
Mayor Picinich explains there have been changes in both attitude and procedures. “We needed to make it less arduous for businesses to come in,” she says. “There were some artificial barriers in place. A lengthy planning process, getting through the building department, things of that sort, made the time to open a business very long.”
Trustee Albanese explains, “We had a town hall meeting recently in which we brought real estate developers in and showed them what we want to do for the good of the town. We want to find a way to say ‘yes’ to someone who wants to do something good for the community.”
At press time, the town was considering request for proposals (RFPs) to lease two large parking lots on North Moger Ave, near the Metro-North station, and South Moger Ave, near Main Street, for transit-oriented development that would include as many as 250 residential units, parking, open-space amenities, and some limited commercial space. “We want to create something there that rounds out the whole area,” Picinich says. The new downtown zoning made consideration of those developments possible.
In addition, Picinich points out, “The opportunity now exists for existing commercial buildings to put residential on their second floors. They can convert vacant office space,
Changes were also made in zoning for nearby Radio Circle. Senior housing, hotels, and conference centers are now permitted. “The vision years ago was that the area would turn into a research and development area,” Picinich explains, “but that never materialized, so we opened up the possible uses there to allow the market to dictate what works.”
Not all development is good, of course, and there are dangers to big changes in a small space. “We’re not a big city,” Picinich says. “We’re a small village, and it’s important that anything that happens here aligns with the feeling of our community. We can’t have really tall buildings or something that overtakes our downtown. We need to see the trees and the mountain.”
The Mount Kisco business community has been a big part of the changes sweeping through the village. Kris Mullen, president of the Mount Kisco Chamber of Commerce and owner of Comprehensive Reimbursement Group LLC, a medical billing and consulting firm, observes, “We have a nice partnership with the local government.” In putting on SeptemberFest, she explains, the government was helpful to the chamber. SeptemberFest turned a ho-hum sidewalk sale into a supersized weekend, with a carnival, beer garden, food court, and activities. (This year’s SeptemberFest event is scheduled for September 13-15.)
Nancy Hack, owner of The Hack Agency, a general insurance agency that does business in 18 states, is a native of Mount Kisco who says the business community itself is growing. “You have longtime people, like myself, and new people all the time,” she says. “The Chamber of Commerce is brimming with new people coming in. The board is a combination of retailers and professionals, old and new members.”
The outlook for the Big Little Village is decidedly upbeat and the word is spreading, according to shop-owner Manwaring: “I know of people who want to take a chance on business here because we have a new energy in town.”
Dave Donelson lives and writes in West Harrison but often finds his way to Mount Kisco to visit not only the fine restaurants but the excellent library, as well.=