Its downtown has housed everything from whale oil merchants to boutique shops and still has a village blacksmith. Government and business leaders there have grappled with everything from the enviable — a waterfront that now boasts a carousel and outdoor pavilion — to the mundane, like stray dogs, in trying to overhaul its downtown corridor over the past few decades.
And according to recently released data, the number of commercial vacancies in Greenport Village is dropping at a much faster rate than in other downtown areas across Long Island.
Figures from Long Island Index, a regional project that has tracked economic indicators across the island for the last decade, show that between 2009 and 2013, the vacancy rate in Greenport dropped from 8.7 to 3 percent. That’s the biggest improvement over the five-year span among Long Island’s 40 downtown areas from Freeport to East Hampton that have between 101 and 200 stores.
Peter Clarke is president of the village’s Business Improvement District and owner of Clarke’s Gardens on Main Street, a floral and garden accessories shop that opened in 2010. He’s lived in the village since the late 1990s and remembers the days not too long ago when the village wasn’t quite as vibrant.
Commercial vacancy rates there reached nearly 13 percent as recently as 2007. But the number of empty storefronts has since diminished.
“We have steadily improved since the economic downturn in terms of economic popularity and awareness,” Mr. Clarke said.
Greenport’s numbers compare with an island-wide average vacancy rate that was 5.1 percent at the end of last year, and 5.5 percent at the end of 2009 and 5.1 percent at the end of last year.
The village has 105 commercial buildings, according to the data.
Mike Acebo, who was president of the Greenport BID for 15 years in the 1990s and early 2000s, said commercial improvement in the village has occurred “continually for years. It’s little by little. Small steps.”
He recalled the days of the Greenport Merchants Committee, which led to the formation of the BID in the mid 1990s — part of a grassroots effort to improve the village when “Greenport was just pulling itself up by the bootstraps.”
“It was a lot of different people working together — not just business owners,” Mr. Acebo said.
Former Mayor Dave Kapell, who took office in 1994, called that period a “low point” for the village’s commercial district. Mr. Kapell has kept a relatively low profile since leaving office and declined to comment in much detail about how the village has evolved in recent years. But he did estimate that vacancy rates in the village when he took the helm might have hovered around 15 to 20 percent.
Current mayor David Nyce did not respond to a request for comment.
Brown Harris Stevens real estate agent Suzanne Hahn, who’s worked in the area for 30 years, said Greenport’s recent economic and cultural “renaissance” centers on its downtown and the historic homes that surround it.
“The business district is really making it a destination point,” she said. “They have their art shows, boat shows, marina, farmers market. All of these different events bring people into the village.”
Jerry Cibulski, with Century 21 Albertson Realty, said an increasing number of historic homes surrounding the downtown area have been renovated and are more frequently rented out because of vibrant businesses.
“The interest is there,” he said. “It’s just a matter of making sure the investment for the purchase price of the property, plus doing the renovations and operating it — that the cash flows are balancing out.”
Jan Claudio, who once chaired the original Merchants Committee, said Tuesday that as Greenport has succeeded in recent years, so has the North Fork — or is it the other way around?
“The vineyards bring folks out,” she said, extending the business season into the fall. “They have increased the tide so all boats rise — they’ve got a lot better at capturing interest themselves, so the expression does hold: The overall tide has risen.”