The Partial Observer by James Dean
Saving Main Street Possible
with NY Forward
The $4.5 million NY Forward grant is another great accomplishment by the Village of Cooperstown’s Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh, Deputy Mayor Cindy Falk, the village board and administration, and other major, local, participants.
The sustained, upward trajectory of multiple multi-million dollar grant accomplishments began when Jeff Katz was first elected mayor of Cooperstown in 2012. Village trustees Ellen Tillapaugh and Cindy Falk were there from day one of Cooperstown’s new beginning with Jeff’s mayoral leadership, and the momentum continues now with Ellen and Cindy’s leadership.
The development of the Strategic Investment Plan to develop and revitalize the downtown area is a major requirement for the intended use of the grant money and that plan formulation is under way.
Main streets and retail storefronts are the face of every community, but how does a retail concept and experience—that has been in place and relatively unchanged for centuries—get revitalized? Paint and signage and a movie set ambiance will go a long way, but it will not substantially change the existing tourist, retail, and local economic matrix of income vs. expenses.
We cannot have change without change, or more income without more income.
Sometimes the problem, and the solution we have been looking for, to transform the Main Street experience, has been right in front of our eyes.
I am talking about the storefront glass that is part of every retail business.
The problem is that we cannot see through storefront glass very well because it is always full of reflections. When we look through a storefront window we often see ourselves, others on the sidewalk, the moving traffic behind us, and the buildings in back of us, on the other side of the street.
What we do not see is the inside of the store, restaurant, or business that we are facing, so the viewer is denied the full experience of the products or services offered inside. The business owners are denied potential sales because they are unable to fully communicate their full range of offerings to the possibly interested sidewalk viewers. It is almost an adversarial relationship.
As a separate issue, it is also fair to say that most storefront businesses generally look closed all of the time, because they are so poorly illuminated on the inside, or the window glass is not allowing the interior light to get out, and the pedestrians have to struggle to see if the business is open (see the link to my earlier “Saving Main Street USA” Freeman’s Journal/All Otsego column below).
The default position of pedestrians, when faced with any visual resistance, is to turn away and to keep walking. Ordinary window glass is reflective by construction, and costs retailers in lost sales every minute of every day, as potential customers on the sidewalk quickly lose interest in a store, and what it may be selling, for want of being given a reason to walk inside.
Tourists do not walk in to local stores because they need to buy something. They walk into local stores for the experience of visiting new places while away from home. Capturing the customer, offering what the customer wants, and making the sale, is the point of owning and operating a storefront retail business, but most businesses fall way short of their full sales and profit potential.
Not only does the retail store lose money when it fails to capture the customer, but the tourists also suffer from less than the best experiences while visiting Cooperstown. This daily lose-lose experience for the tourists and the merchants alike is not a plan for a community’s long-term growth and success.
So what is my plan to radically transform the Main Street retail experience?
I am proposing changing all of the glass in the Main Street retail store fronts to anti-reflective “invisible glass,” to transform the retail experience for the tourists and the business owners alike, and to bring the primitive practice of the static window display dependent on walk-in retail experience into the 21st century.
Anti-reflective glass will reduce the visual and physical barriers between the sidewalk and the interior of the Main Street businesses. Anti-reflective glass is an ultra-clear glass that fully opens the interior of storefront businesses to public view, as a real time interactive experience, as though the glass was not there.
Changing the storefront glass to anti-reflective—in conjunction with additional, creative LED interior lighting and product placement—will change every storefront’s outward presentation from a static, dusty, same-old worn out picture to real time animated views of the activity and products inside the retail business. The interior of the store now becomes the main attraction as viewed from the outside. Main Street Cooperstown goes from static to dynamic, from reactive to interactive, from sleepy to leading edge.
The new anti-reflective glass must be kept very clean and free from any obstructions of the full open interior view for maximum benefit to the outside viewer and the business owner alike. Business owners, immediately realizing the increased sales from this new active retailing environment, will now reconfigure their interiors to be better illuminated, and more attractive, as viewed from the sidewalk.
The appearance of interior illuminated stores, through anti-reflective glass, is even more spectacular after dark. If all of the Main Street storefront businesses could agree to keep their store lights on until about 9:00 or 10:00 in the evening during the tourist season, Main Street would sparkle while people patronize Main Street restaurants and stroll to view the interior business displays. LED lighting makes this small additional lighting expense very affordable, and the evening viewers can return the next day to purchase items viewed the night before.
Viewing the Main Street storefront interiors from the sidewalk will become a major attraction on its own, and visitors will spread the word about what they have seen and experienced on Main Street in Cooperstown, New York. Village government officials and business owners from around the country will come to see how the Village of Cooperstown has revolutionized and transformed the centuries-old Main Street retail experience and improved every aspect of community life in the process.
I bring this proposal up now because replacing that much glass would be a major logistical undertaking that could only be accomplished with widespread village, business and building owner support, cooperation, coordination, and planning.
It would also require substantial financial support and backing that can only come from a major financial grant, for such a specific purpose as revitalizing the village’s downtown, as from NY Forward. I realize that it is an expensive undertaking, but there is a fixed upside limit to the one-time financial costs. Unfortunately, there is no downside limit to the existing, accumulating, unknown daily financial losses.
There are many suppliers of anti-reflective glass. Basic information on anti-reflective “invisible glass” can be found at https://tinyurl.com/AGC-Pvideo, https://tinyurl.com/AGC-video, https://tinyurl.com/Guardian-AR and https://tinyurl.com/Guardian-Clarity.
To read my first column on Saving Main Street USA, addressing interior store lighting for Main Street businesses—published in “The Freeman’s Journal” and on AllOtsego.com on April 21, 2022—enter “Saving Main Street” in the allotsego.com search box or go to https://tinyurl.com/SavingMainStreetUSA.
At the time of that first writing, I was aware of the storefront glass problem, but that solution was too expensive and too large a project to be considered, so I focused on the interior lighting as the next best solution.
James R. Dean has been a resident of Cooperstown since 1977 and served on the Village Board of Trustees from 2011-2021.