Ridgewood, along with having one of the top high schools in the state, is proud of its thriving central business district. Mayor Ramon Hache affirms, “Our CBD is the crown jewel of Bergen County. There is no equal.” Students use the downtown for food, shopping, employment and more. But do students get the most out of their downtown? The High Times conducted a survey to find out. About 75% of RHS students who took the survey said that they visit the downtown one to three times a week and about 66% answered that they spend $20 or less per week downtown.
Are those numbers good enough for Ridgewood business owners? Tony Damiano, president of the Ridgewood Guild, a local organization made of retailers, restaurateurs, professionals, nonprofits and residents, says that the downtown should do more to cater to the teen demographic. “Teens must be given a reason to use the downtown,” states Damiano. He says that recently, he has observed teens disproportionately frequenting coffee shops. The survey results back this up, with Starbucks mentioned in about 20% of the responses on the question “What’s your favorite place downtown?”. About as many mentioned as Village Tea Shop, the other most popular answer.
What can Ridgewood’s downtown do to bring in more teen patrons? Damiano says that following trends are an important part of business, and a rising business trend is experiential businesses, such as escape rooms. Experiential answers “Arcade/game room” and “Karaoke” share two of the three most popular answers with “Record store” on the question “What new businesses would you like to see in downtown?”, with the two experience-based answers making up about half of the total response pool. Mayor Hache says that with recent zoning changes in Ridgewood, “we now have experiential retail considering Ridgewood as a possible place to do business.”
How would teens use such a business? David Balsamini runs and curates Morristown Game Vault, a collection of over 100 consoles from Burger Time to Metallica pinball to Xbox, inside a former bank. Balsamini says of his role in Morristown that customers can “meet up for human interaction, and socialize, not just sitting in a house.” All the machines at Morristown Game Vault are unlocked, meaning that once you lose or win, you don’t need to pay to play again. Customers pay $7 for 30 minutes, $10 for an hour and $25 for 5 hours. Morristown Game Vault also holds birthday parties and tournaments. Balsamini says, “people can be brought in[to my business], go eat and shop around me, like part of a downtown experience.”
Student answers to “What are some changes you would like to see in your downtown?” vary in interesting ways. One respondent said “It’s pretty cool as is” but suggested “more ACTUAL activities to do. There’s stuff like Color Me Mine and the movie theatre but nothing actually engaging and fun to do. Karaoke, mini golf, laser tag or something would be awesome.” Another respondent said, “I think it’s pretty good how it is now. There are a lot of places though that aren’t recognized in town though, and it would be better if maybe there was more advertisement or talk about these places.” Another called for “more variety in the store selection. We mainly have restaurants but it would be nice to have some well-known clothing stores of funky shops to make it more fun.” Respondents were about 40% seniors, about 24% sophomores and about 18% each of juniors and freshmen. Although Ridgewood has a great downtown currently, they may need to accommodate additional entertainment for teenagers in order to expand their markets.
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Graphic: Daniel Greenman