STORY AND PHOTO BY JAMES BERNICK
With its unlined, pothole ridden parking lot, islands of unmowed grass, and postapocalyptic accenting of overgrown shrubbery, a casual oberserver could easily mistake the Airmont Shopping Plaza (located at the intersection of Route 59 and Airmont Road behind the Airmont Diner) for an abandoned building.
This initial impression would not be far from the truth. Since the closing of the Grand Union Supermarket several years ago, the shopping center has experienced a dramatic decline as occupant businesses have folded or relocated one by one. The appearance and upkeep of the building and grounds have seen a correspondent turn for the worse as landlord Arthur Abbey, a Manhattan attorney, has increasingly neglected the aesthetics of his property.
Now only four stores remain in the shopping center: Tiffany Cleaners, Crystal Run Healthcare, Airmont Animal Hospital, and Drug Mart Pharmacy.
By far the longest tenant of Airmont Plaza is Drug Mart Pharmacy, which has been owned and operated by Ira Glotzer in the same location for over 48 years. Fortunately for Glotzner, his business has been resilient in the face the building’s decline. Much of this has to do with a business model that relies on personal relationships and customer service, “We’re the only pharmacy that delivers in the area. We service every senior citizen complex in the area, and we give them full service.”
As for the landlord’s failure to meet basic upkeep of the property, Glotzer was surprisingly sympathetic, “I’ve dealt with him for 35 years. Never had a problem. Ever. The landscaping isn’t great, but the maintenance is adequate, and I never have a problem with snow.” He continued, “The issue is that the major space is too small for a supermarket. It’s only 40,000 square feet. Supermarkets usually want 75,000 to 90,000 square feet. And you can’t subdivide the space.”
Glotzner considers himself a believer in the old-fashioned notion of people first: “Chains are not competition for us. We know everybody by name. There are people who have been customers for 48 years. Several of my employees have worked here for over 30 years.”
As for the future of the plaza, “The landlord has been agressively trying to do something with that space,” said Glotzner.
For other businesses in the Airmont Shopping Plaza, these “aggressive attempts” are cold comfort when it comes to the bottom line. According to Kenny Joo, a South Korean immigrant and the proprietor of Tiffany Cleaner, the decline of the shopping plaza has hurt his dry-cleaning business severely: “Every year business [is] going down. [It’s] all empty stores. Who’s going to be here?”
Although Tiffany Cleaner has been there for over 26 years, Joo is worried about losing his busines now more than ever. For the moment however, he is tied down by the high cost of relocation: “[It’s a] big investment to make- new machines and everything.” This situation is further complicated by the fact that the landlord, presumably hoping to keep his options for redevelopment open, has refused to give Mr. Joo a new lease either, leaving him in month-to-month renter’s purgatory.
Asked what the landlord could do to improve things Joo replied, “Put anything where [the] supermarket used to be. Anything.”
The receptionist for Airmont Animal Hospital, Hope DeBenedetto, offered some additional details about the shopping mall’s history: “When we first opened here 25 years ago, every store in the center was full.”
“It really began to noticably decline in the last five years.”
“Maintenance is slim to none- once a month to once every two months.” According to DeBenedetto, Dr. Lawrence Ness, the practicing veterinarian at Airmont Animal Hospital, actually “had to purchase mulch for the landscapers.”
Employees at Crystal Run Healthcare declined to answer questions about the building or landlord.
Rockland County Times attempted to contact landlord Arthur Abbey but was only able to get in touch with the real estate agency in charge of leasing the property. Nonetheless, this conversation did yield some interesting insights into the possible future of Airmont Shopping Plaza.
Said Jeanine Kemm of Royal Properties Incorporated, “The whole center is going to be redeveloped.”
“We already know that we have zoning approval for the use of the building. You still have to go in front of the town council and then get specific approval.”
According to Kemm, the space formerly occupied by Grand Union, which includes 40,000 square feet of floor space and 3,000 square feet of mezzanine space, will get a new HVAC system, a new roof, and upgraded electric “as soon as a big box store comes in” to the space.
After years of vacancy, however, whether this big box store savior will ever arrive remains an open question.
Kemm further noted, “We emptied out the plaza specifically for a redevelopment and let the leases expire. Everybody there is on a month to month lease. We’ve had a number of national pharmacy chains, retail stores, and other big boxes show interest. There is no point in putting any effort into the property without a big box tenant.
“Everything is going to be brand new. We have turned down businesses that weren’t up to what we are looking for.”