Alive on 25 drew thousands downtown July 5, 2018. Photo: Denise Civiletti

The Blue Duck bakery is another casualty of the empty sidewalks. We lose a well-run retail and wholesale business, a venue for local arts events, and vital support to rebuild Main Street. Nancy and Keith Kouris were active in the Chamber of Commerce, BID, Downtown Beautification Committee, Alive on 25 and Halloween, the Parking District Committee — even offering to assist in launching a WaterFire. This is an unacceptable loss and must be a wake-up call.

So, why don’t we spend time downtown? ‘Parking’ is a common response. Agreed, there are congested spots, yet the town’s recently completed parking study shows “the overall utilization rate of the Downtown area did not exceed 58 percent” so it seems if we can’t find a spot in front of our destination, we feel inconvenienced. It’s perception. In other places, parking is a real problem. Residents and visitors find or even pay for parking and then they walk. It’s not parking that’s our problem. It’s walking. And walking = feet on the street. I hear concerns about safety. I’m downtown almost every day and many evenings and I feel safe. Our police do an amazing job and have greatly improved the area over the last decade. Architecturally and naturally, Riverhead has one of the prettiest downtowns in the area. If you don’t come downtown, why should the town pay to improve it?

A place. A plaza. A piazza. A square. It’s where people gather, that’s the definition of a place. Bringing vibrancy and building a positive sense in the town takes community participation. It’s about bringing people together, leveraging public space, private space and community programming. This supports small businesses as a building block of economic development. This holistic technique has a name. It’s called ‘creative placemaking.’ Councilwoman Catherine Kent and Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith have created a Downtown Revitalization Committee and are intent on making our downtown better. I participate on that committee as a professional creative placemaker.

I can do more. As a small business advocate on the town board, I will respond to the segment’s needs all across town and advocate for a business-friendly regulatory environment. Small business owners are often skilled trades people who have to do it all — bookkeeping, marketing, HR and all sorts of tasks on top of serving their customers. I can incorporate small-business know-how into the town board’s decision-making and know when it’s time to step in and give a little extra help to the struggling merchants on Main Street during a transition.

There are great restaurants and services to support and new entrepreneurs investing. Instead of eating on Route 58 or going out of town, commit to choosing one of Main Street’s delicious family-run restaurants, at all price levels. Town leadership is working to change the story. A new parking plan will be adopted, better signage is soon to be placed and security cameras installed to create more safety. Now do your part, make an effort. Old habits die hard. There is every reason to come downtown and embrace our efforts to change. Put your feet on our street and get in your steps! It’s your community. #ShopDowntown #MainStreetRiverhead

Diane Tucci is a candidate for Riverhead Town Board. She lives in Riverhead.

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