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Square shoppers put in their two-cents

There were no real surprises as the Westchester Square Merchants Association completed its Needs Assessment Survey necessary to become a Business Improvement District. 

For several weeks, local merchants joined volunteers from the Westchester Square Zerega Improvement Organization and the nearby Daytop Village in asking shoppers and guests what they thought was needed to bring about the Square’s resurgence. 

After looking over 300+ responses, WSMA president John Bonizio feels the answers to various questions were in line with his own thoughts over the last few years. 

“Their responses shored up what we have felt for a long time,” said Bonizio.  “We all know what the problems are – security, safety and cleanliness.  That was echoed in the survey.  We just wanted to make sure that we were going in the right direction.”

The mostly anonymous survey included numerous remarks asking for a well-known anchor store to help drive business into the area; more foot patrols from the 45th Precinct; the obvious need for more parking; and better lighting and cleaning, including graffiti removal, to make the strip more attractive. 

Of predominant concern was the Owen Dolen Community Center at 1400 Westchester Square; long considered an eyesore to residents who believe the location could be a haven for local youth looking to stay away from the temptations of the street. 

“Something has to be done about Owen Dolen,” said one responder.  “I am surprised that the Parks Department is not embarrassed having its sign hanging from the location.”

Another concern involved Lehman High School and its ambitious, but troubling lunch program, which allows thousands of students to venture outdoors for meals. 

“We need an increased police presence during lunch when the Lehman kids are allowed out,” said one survey. 

“The Lehman High School lunch program should be re-evaluated,” said another responder.  “Those with good behavior and good grades should only be allowed out at lunch.”

While Bonizio has heard the complaints for years, he was surprised to hear residents still discussing the issue.  “The survey was conducted in the middle of summer when there are no kids around, so it is interesting to note that the issue is still fresh in people’s minds,” he said. 

The responses come from a separate portion of the survey, which asks for additional comments, in addition to statements residents were asked to answer with simple strongly agree, strongly disagree or don’t know comments.  The fact that residents took the time to fill out the additional comments portion gives Bonizio hope that they are on the right path. 

“Not everyone bothers to write things down in those sections, but the fact that people did shows that they are tired of feeling ignored,” said Bonizio.  “They want to see a better Westchester Square.  And that’s what we hope to provide for them.”

Bonizio will enter responses into a database and then use the information as a guide to where they will put money in the budget for the BID.  The survey itself is eliciting positive responses from those that sees it as a sign of good things ahead.

 

“If anyone had any doubt that the merchants are fully committed to forming a BID and seeing this commercial hub come back to life, all they have to do is look at the time, the energy, and the resources being spent by John Bonizio and the rest of the steering committee,” said Councilman Jimmy Vacca.  “It’s truly amazing, and this is just the beginning.”

 

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