BID works to keep shoppers in Fordham amid mall opening

Shoppers pass by Claire's jewelry store on East Fordham Rd in the Bronx.

Shoppers pass by Claire's jewelry store, one of over 300 business located on Fordham Rd in the Bronx. (Lauren Foster/BRONX INK)

The mix of mom and pop shops and national retail chain stores along Fordham Road in the Bronx continue to thrive despite the new, enclosed Mall at Bay Plaza that opened nearby on August 14. The $300 million mall has 780,000 square feet of retail space and is about a 10-minute drive from the outdoor retail hub that is Fordham Road. The mall features hundreds of shops, a movie theater and restaurants and appeals to customers from both the Bronx and Westchester because of its location near the border between them. But well-braced for the impact, Fordham stores are holding on. Over the two years during which the mall was under construction, the Fordham business community prepared to stave off the threat of retail competition and is now seeing the results of its efforts. “The mall did not affect my business at all,” said Adam Tapia, manager of Modell’s Sporting Goods on East Fordham Road. “I am up by a million and a half dollars in revenue from last year.” The Fordham Road Business Improvement District (BID), a non-profit that bolsters Fordham businesses, has been working to retain shoppers in Fordham. The BID has been renovating local buildings and bringing in more diverse local offerings so that shoppers do not need to leave the area for any of the items on their shopping lists. Daniel Bernstein, the Deputy Director of the Fordham BID, said, The BID is always trying to make business better, but it’s also our goal to maintain what Fordham Road is known for -- a balance of mom and pop shops and large national retail chains that has existed for 10 years.” Fordham has boasted one of the lowest retail vacancy rates in the city at about 3 to 3.5 percent since 2005, according to the BID. In addition, some 80,000 people come through Fordham Road in a period of 12 hours on a typical weekday, the BID reports. There, they will find variety the mall does not provide, despite its dozens of stores, Bernstein said. “If people are looking for a unique, special item, they will find it here in Fordham.” At clothing and accessory store Embode Boutique on East Fordham Road, for example, one can purchase custom colored hats to match a pair of sneakers at prices ranging from $30 to $35. The clientele for the Bay Plaza Mall and Fordham Road overlap, but are not identical. With its proximity to Westchester, the mall is targeting customers with more disposable income than those who live in and commute to or through Fordham. The mall features stores like Michael Kors and Swarovski alongside stores with lower price-points like Old Navy and Perfumania. Fordham residents do not support sit-down restaurants, which are a big attraction at the mall for other shoppers, according to Bernstein. Thirty-three percent of Fordham residents live below the poverty level, according to 2006 findings by New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Additionally, 65 percent of Fordham residents are on some type of income support, a number that has continued to grow since 2005. But Bernstein said there is also a wider “built-in demographic” of shoppers in Fordham: “We have Fordham University, Monroe College, Lehman College, the 1199 building which is the largest union in New York City, and ridiculous amount of health care offices.” Bernstein also pointed to Fordham commuters. “There are thousands of people a day visiting the neighborhood, with so many people coming from so many different places. I see people commute with shopping bags.” The BID has sponsored massive renovation projects, most recently re-doing Fordham Place, a complex that now boasts a Best Buy, office centers, retail, and the charter school Jonas Bronck Academy. Fordham Plaza is another development that has just been renovated by the BID with a Starbucks and TJ Maxx occupying its ground floor since June. The BID has also announced the recent purchase of another block for new development and plans to re-do additional stores and bring bigger brand names to the area. According to Bernstein, Fordham is more attractive to higher end chain stores than it used to be. Bernstein said, “A lot of stores that 10 years ago wouldn’t have thought of coming here are now open to the idea. And different types of shops, like healthy juice shops.” Despite the BID’s efforts, one small store in Fordham has already felt the impact of the Bay Plaza mall. At Claire’s, an inexpensive girl’s fashion jewelry store on East Fordham Road, assistant manager Rebecca Edward said, “Our traffic has definitely cut down and our store is not making as much as before.” But this store is in the unusual position of facing competition from another branch of the same chain called Icing by Claire’s, whose fashion jewelry caters to a slightly older but overlapping clientele. The Icing by Claire’s location at the Bay Plaza mall had a surge in customers despite being only a fourth of the size of the retail location in Fordham. Edward said, “Business might bounce back at our Fordham location after the appeal of the mall wears down, but right now people want to check out the mall because it’s new and fresh.” “The Fordham Claire’s is still relatively new,” Bernstein said.“ It is common in New York that stores oversaturate areas and they are hurting themselves by doing that.” Eventually, he added, the mall itself could be a draw for Fordham’s businesses.