The business owners in the long-neglected Miracle Plaza shopping center in North Bellport say they want to see the buildings rehabbed and the area beautified.
They just want to be a part of it.
But under the current plans, it looks as if one shop is being pushed out for certain: the Holla Dollar variety store.
At a meeting Thursday night at the Boys & Girls Club, a lawyer for the plaza owners handed out artist renderings that featured a Family Dollar in place of the Holla Dollar.
The family that owns Holla Dollar was present, and took offense.
And now it appears a chunk of the neighboring community is rallying behind them.
“How could you push people out like it’s nothing?” Irma Valverde, who’s father, Jesus, bought the store nine years ago, told the attorney. “I get that Family Dollar is a national corporation; they have a lot more money than my dad does. But I know my dad cares a lot about that place.”
She and her brother, who was also present, complained that the family had tried to reach out to the new landlords to talk about leasing more space and helping renovate the buildings, but to no avail.
“Your clients should try to speak to the people who are already there, and who are willing to put money into fixing that place,” she said. “I get it’s a business, but you should at least be giving people a warning, so the families could try to find money to make businesses somewhere else.”
She had tears in her eyes by the end of the three-minute speech.
“Your clients need to realize we are people too. They can find a way to make that place work and build the community up just by keeping the businesses there,” she said to applause.
“I’ll tell my clients,” said the lawyer, Christopher Nicolia of Hauppauge.
Earlier in the meeting, hosted by the Greater Bellport Coalition, Nicolia explained that the plaza owner’s business model is to purchase under-performing shopping centers and use national chain tenants as anchors to provide the income needed to fix them up.
But he also said the Family Dollar is no done deal. The renovation plans for Miracle Plaza, located near Station Road and Montauk Highway, still need town approvals.
“[The proposed facade] has not been approved yet by the Town of Brookhaven and if the Town of Brookhaven doesn’t approve it, it’s unlikely the Family Dollar will come in,” he said. “They need the signage.”
The meeting, which was attended by more than two dozen people, eventually turned into a call for action.
“Don’t tear our barbershop down. Don’t take our Chinese place. Don’t take our Holla Dollar. Don’t do nothing, because we’re comfortable with those people,” said Rodney Terry, who lives in the area. “We know them. We’ve known them for years. And we love their hospitality, just like they love us for what we provide for them.”
Nicolia said the Chinese food restaurant, Fuji, as well as the barbershop, Imperial Kutt Kreator’s, are still part of the plans for the renovated shopping center.
The developers don’t yet have a date with the Planning Board but they’re looking to move on the project “as soon as possible,” Nicolia said.
But there are concerns that with the renovation, rents will be raised to a point that’s out of sync with current businesses’ established budgets, forcing longtime tenants like the barbershop to move.
“I think a little change would be good, but if I can’t afford to stay here, what good is it for me?” said the barbershop’s owner, James Plummer, last week.
Plummer said he’s been cutting hair at Miracle Plaza for 21 years before buying the shop 10 years ago.
“I don’t know who to believe,” he said. “And they keep raising the rent.”
Asked about increased rents at the meeting, Nicolia said Bellport Plaza LLC, which bought the land earlier this year, has to generate enough revenue to pay the loan the company took out to purchase the property.
A Bellport lawyer who was in attendance, Regina Seltzer, said the only real power the neighbors have is with the town Planning Board.
“You have no power at all with the people who he represents,” said Seltzer, who served on the board for seven years. “They don’t care who you are, because you don’t have anything you can give them, or anything that they want.
“But with the Planning Board, you’re a resident of the town and a voter and a taxpayer. So you’ve got a certain amount of clout, especially if you do it as a group.”
Many of those in attendance then agreed to meet again soon to hammer out a plan.
“If everyone in this building showed up with a ‘No Family Dollar’ shirt on, and Channel 12 there, then maybe people would listen to us,” said one woman.
There were also threats of a boycott of any incoming Family Dollar.
“You’re going to be asking the people of North Bellport to support your Family Dollar? It’s not going to happen,” Terry said. “We support Holla Dollar like we always had for 20 years. And we’d support them for another 20 years. But Family Dollar isn’t going to get any of my money.
“Their business will crash, just like you’re trying to make [the Holla Dollar] crash.”
Top: Jesus Valverde in his Holla Dollar variety store last week. (Credit: Michael White)