Illustration by Chris van Es
When local entrepreneur Paul Ghiron watched his elderly father struggle between choosing frozen supermarket meals and expensive takeout dinners to eat at home, he saw a typical issue of an aging population—and a business opportunity. He knew his dad’s situation was hardly unique, so in late 2009, Ghiron, founder and president of Elmsford catering firm The Crystal Spoon Corp., launched Top Chef Meals to provide seniors like his dad with “healthy, tasty, inexpensive” home-delivered meals.
“I knew there was a market opportunity,” Ghiron says. “I knew I could leverage the talent I have here providing corporate catering to create meals for senior citizens and make it affordable for them—and profitable for us.”
Today, Top Chef Meals delivers about 1,200 meals a month throughout Westchester. Ghiron predicts a 500-percent growth for Top Chef Meals over the next five years, based on its current monthly growth of 10 to 15 percent. “Being in Westchester is a big advantage,” he says. “Many of the seniors here have some disposable income.”
Ghiron’s instinct to cater to seniors and Baby Boomers seems to be a smart business move—and one being replicated across Westchester and the nation—as the country ages. Currently, some 40 million Americans are aged 65 years or older, and hot on their heels are nearly 79 million Baby Boomers, the oldest of whom began turning 65 this year. Over the next 18 or so years, between 3 and 4 million people from that powerhouse demographic will turn 65 each year—at a rate of 10,000 per day.
Here in Westchester, the trend is no different. There are 187,000 people aged 60 and older who currently call Westchester home (roughly 18 percent of the county’s total population), and the County expects the senior population to continue to increase by as many as 63,000 as the youngest Boomers begin to creep toward retirement age.
Upside of Downtime
All that gray and white hair can translate into gold for area businesses. The sheer size of this population over the coming decades will bring with it a natural and expansive customer base that is the stuff of marketers’ dreams. Indeed, Boomers nationwide yield $2.1 trillion in annual spending, with younger Boomers (individuals aged 46 to 55) racking up $61,179 each in average annual expenditures, and older Boomers (56 to 65) spending $54,783 each year, according to the MetLife Mature Market Institute.
And, Westchester seniors and Boomers are living longer, healthier, more active lives than the generations before them. Retirement no longer means instantly retreating to Florida, and aging gracefully is all about staying hip enough to hang with your grandkids. In business terms, Boomers and young seniors have a good 20 to 30 years of key purchasing power left in them. Plus, Boomers and young seniors often make purchases for multiple generations, making their buying power even more potent, notes Francis Petit, associate dean of executive MBA programs at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Business Administration in West Harrison. “With many parents working full-time, more caregiving responsibility is falling to the Baby Boomer grandparent,” Petit says. “As a result, grandparents are making day-to-day purchasing decisions in place of the working parents.”
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Younger Boomers may also be reaching the empty-nest phase as their children leave for college and are experiencing a newfound freedom that brings with it the time and energy to spend money on their own leisure pursuits, Petit adds. And shopping seems to be one of those pursuits. “Baby Boomers and young seniors have a very strong presence at The Westchester,” reports Paula Kelliher, the area director of mall marketing for Simon Property Group, which owns The Westchester and The Galleria.
The county’s restaurants also reach out to seniors and Boomers to attract their patronage. In Larchmont, for instance, restaurants like Anna Maria’s Italian Restaurant and the Larchmont Tavern offer various discounts and early-bird specials to members of At Home on the Sound, a nonprofit group that provides a wide range of services and social activities for seniors who live at home in the Mamaroneck and Larchmont area. “After all, seniors often frequent local restaurants because they don’t cook at home as much anymore, and they don’t want to travel into Manhattan to eat,” says Elaine Weingarten, At Home on the Sound’s executive director.
When they’re not shopping or dining out, many of the county’s Boomers and seniors are spending their disposable income at places like the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville. The indie cinema is expecting that audience to be faithful as they continue to age, says Dominick Balletta, the Center’s managing director. “Typically, the art-house cinema audience trends slightly older,” says Balletta. “They have more stable incomes, and they seek the intellectual challenge of foreign films and special events.” The Center’s 3,400 senior members make up half of its entire membership, he adds.
Culture-seeking Boomers are also a key demographic for the Katonah Museum of Art (KMA). The museum’s largest percentage of visitors are women age 55 and older, and its exhibitions and lectures are a hit with Baby Boomers, says Director of Development Allison Chernow, who expects the museum to continue to benefit as Boomers hit retirement age. “Retirees are the people with time to see exhibitions, attend lectures, and enjoy cultural opportunities.”
Retirees are also a group with ample time to travel, which has boded well for The Upper Class, a family-run, active-adult travel business based in Mamaroneck, says Brooke Lawer, who handles the company’s marketing. Today, the company offers some 140 trips annually, spending approximately 200 days a year on the road in service of its 20,000 customers in the Westchester area—most of whom are 55 and older. “Our customers have the expectation that their life shouldn’t change just because they’ve hit a certain age,” Lawer says. “They want the same quality and variety and opportunities they have always had.”
Benefiting from The Boom
What businesses in Westchester stand to benefit most from its aging population? “The healthcare and financial industries, of course,” says Mae Carpenter, commissioner of the Westchester County Department of Senior Programs and Services. “There is also a tremendous need for what I call a ‘rent-a-daughter’ service to help older people with a wide range of everyday things like paying bills, cleaning, organizing, decluttering their homes, transportation, and even just companionship.”
Caregivers from White Plains-based Home Instead Senior Care fulfill just that type of role. The company, which opened in 2004, provides non-medical assistance to seniors in their homes, offering everything from meal preparation to laundry, transportation, help with medication, and light housekeeping. “We provide a comfort zone for seniors and their out-of-the-area adult children, who take solace in knowing that we are there for their parents when they can’t be,” says President Brian Trainor. His company has achieved 20 to 25 percent growth each year; what started as a one-man firm now counts more than 100 caregivers and 100 clients.
There’s No Place Like Home
Brian Tainor, it seems, is on the right track: the trend of “aging in place,” in which seniors choose to remain in their own homes for as long as possible as opposed to moving to assisted-living or nursing-home facilities, is driving demand for a whole host of in-home products and services. The economic impacts—and resulting business opportunities—of the aging-at-home trend are significant, says Michael Olender, associate state director of AARP New York. “Seniors who remain in their own communities will continue supporting the local economy,” he says. “They are still out food shopping. They are getting their prescriptions filled at the local pharmacy. If they have a yard, they are probably paying someone nearby to take care of it. And,” he continues, “seniors staying in their homes will have to make adjustments to those homes, so that creates a demand for businesses making homes more senior-friendly.”
That demand is the reason Pleasantville-based handyman firm Home Services Shop opened its Stay at Home Services division in 2009. Devoted to helping aging Westchesterites remain safely in their homes, Stay at Home Services performs jobs like installing grab bars in showers, elevating toilet seats, adding access ramps, and expanding interior hallways and rooms to better accommodate wheelchairs. President Michael Gilfeather says the new division serves about 10 to 15 clients per month.
Healthy Living, Bottom Lines
“Although this population is going to be living longer and healthier, they’ll be utilizing more services related to aging issues,” says Stephen Jones, MD, director of the Center for Healthy Aging at Greenwich Hospital. “Demand will increase for everything from cosmetic procedures to medical treatments for the diseases of aging such as arthritis, hip replacements, knee replacements, cataracts, and issues associated with obesity.”
“Boomers are a unique group because they take a proactive approach to their healthcare,” says Dr. Jean-Claude Doornick of Westchester Family Chiropractic in Harrison, whose patients are mostly Boomers. Club Fit, which has locations in Jefferson Valley and Briarcliff Manor, can vouch for Boomers’ proactive approach to their health. It has recently seen an increase in the percentage of its members who are over 60; indeed, seniors now make up nearly 25 percent of membership at both locations, says VP Ellen Koelsch.
A Planning Payday
Of course, all this healthy, active aging does not come cheap. And while previous generations may have depended on pensions and Medicare to fund their needs as they aged, today’s seniors and Boomers are more likely to rely on private financial instruments, giving a boost to the financial-planning industry, says Mark Brownstein, president of the Westchester/Rockland chapter of the Financial Planning Association, and a manager with Mamaroneck-based wholesale insurance brokerage firm CPS Elite Advisors Insurance Services. “Boomers and seniors today are looking very closely at how their assets can cover them for their care and retirement needs,” Brownstein says.
Similarly, attorneys specializing in elder law are poised for growth in the coming years as more clients look for help with asset preservation, guardianship concerns, living wills, healthcare directives and proxies, and life-support issues, says Steven Schurkman, a partner at Keane & Beane PC in White Plains. “I think we’re a few years away from the Baby Boomers doing this sort of planning en masse. But they are more attuned to doing it than their parents were,” Schurkman says.
Needless to say, businesses all over Westchester County will be watching as the Baby Boomers begin aging en masse. The companies who position their products and services as indispensable to the Boomer version of “aging”—healthy, active, and proactive—are in a good place to take this Elderboom straight to the bank.
Amy Roach Partridge is a veteran business writer and editor who has called Westchester home for more than a decade.
Living Well in Senior Living
When it comes time for aging Boomers and seniors here to decamp for assisted-living or skilled-nursing facilities, they’ll have plenty of places to choose from. For these organizations, business in Westchester is booming.
“Quite simply, the demographics are on our side,” says John Hartmayer, regional vice president, New York, for Atria Senior Living, a nationwide firm that operates Westchester senior communities in Briarcliff, Rye Brook, Ardsley, and Ossining. “There is a strong need for senior living here, and, with the aging of the Baby Boomers, we expect that need to continue.” Case in point is the company’s new facility, Atria on the Hudson in Ossining, which opened with 122 units in mid-April. Already, the facility is more than 50 percent occupied; its other Westchester locations maintain higher than 90-percent occupancy rates.
The same growing need is the impetus behind The Club at Briarcliff, a $350-million, campus-style continuing-care retirement community being developed on 59 acres in Briarcliff Manor. The project is targeted to the aging Baby Boomer population that wants to retire in a luxurious community. (Spa and wellness center, personal trainer, gourmet dining venues, and a cocktail lounge, anyone?) While the facility is not scheduled to open until 2013, the developer, Integrated Development Group (IDG) of Northbrook, Ill., has already received deposits on roughly 70 units. “Though we’re five to ten years away from having Baby Boomers be the heart of our market, we see the demand increasing,” reports Matthew Phillips, president and CEO of IDG.
And Westchester’s high real estate values are key, Phillips says. “Our customers are typically selling their homes and using that equity to pay our entrance fees. So we look for communities where the average or median home price is at least as much, if not greater, than the entrance fee,” Phillips says. “Because of Westchester’s solid residential real estate market and its demographic potential, it is a very compelling area for us.”