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Scarsdale Village CenterThe Scarsdale Forum Downtown Revitalization Committee has released the first of two survey reports meant to generate real ways to breathe life into the village center. Convened over a year ago, the committee has held discussions with a prominent village landlord and village staff, and has polled both consumers and merchants in its attempts to paint a complete picture of what’s right and what’s wrong about Downtown Scarsdale.

Of particular interest is its recently completed, in-depth consumer and merchant surveys, which will yield two critical viewpoints to consider in proposing practical, results-oriented solutions to reinvigorate the area. And, the committee’s just-published consumer survey report not only confirms what many Scarsdale residents think; it provides a strong voice for creating meaningful change.

The survey, which yielded 1,257 responses, presented a fairly comprehensive view of consumer options from all likely visitors to Downtown Scarsdale. According to Downtown Revitalization Committee Chair Susan Douglass, “The response rate for our consumer survey is strongly represented by Scarsdale residents; however, the committee made a concerted effort to recruit respondents from areas neighboring Scarsdale Village.”

In terms of demographics, the highest concentration of visitors to the village center lives within walking distance (less than a mile) to it. In addition, almost half of those who live two to five miles from the village center still visit at least two to three times per week.

The Lowdown on Downtown
Survey participants were, overwhelmingly, positive about the attractiveness and cleanliness of downtown Scarsdale stores and restaurants, and the quality of customer service delivered by those establishments. “Nonetheless, there were many ‘verbatim’ responses that pointed to aging infrastructure and aesthetic factors, such as the lack of freshness, vibrancy and an inviting feel,” said Douglass. “Some free-text responses mentioned specific retail establishments in need of upgrading.”

It also was clear that food, beverages and eateries scored highest as top reasons to visit the village center, while consumers indicated that apparel and jewelry stores scored at the low end of reasons to visit downtown – a critical point when one considers the number of such establishments. Further, as Douglass pointed out, “Scarsdale retail has traditionally been associated with luxury goods and services shopping. It is interesting to note that the percentage of respondents with a negative opinion increased in correlation with household income.” For instance, 35 percent of consumers with a household income of $550,000 or greater had a negative perception of the luxury goods and services shopping experience, compared with 16 percent of those with an income of less than $100,000.

“Overwhelmingly, the most affluent customers are not pleased with the variety of goods and services available in Scarsdale Village Center. In fact, these respondents were quite vocal in their comments and survey responses that they prefer value to luxury in downtown and that the current composition of retail offerings is not the ideal,” stated Douglass.

Appearance and customer service aside, survey participants expressed the most negative responses when asked about the parking experience and availability of restaurants, entertainment options and retail diversity in downtown Scarsdale.

Parking Wars
As expected, consumers requested increasing the availability and ease of parking, and reducing the negative aspects of the parking experience, such as aggressive enforcement and antiquated meters. According to Douglass, “Complaints about the availability of parking and overzealous enforcement of parking violations were the most oft-mentioned subjects in the survey’s open-ended respondent comments.” She continued, “Parking availability, and the ease of getting in and out of spaces ranked as the second-worst attribute of the village center among respondents.”

The survey also asked consumers to rate two possible solutions to the parking challenges. Increasing availability (providing more spaces) yielded a slightly higher score than offering free parking, with some respondents pointing out that free parking might actually reduce parking availability and make matters worse. “A solution should not be deferred until Freightway is rebuilt,” Douglass said. “We have to find near-term solutions and create a long-term plan that balances the unfilled needs of consumers, commuters, merchants and visitors.”

We Like the Nightlife
Over three-quarters of respondents (78 percent) had a negative view of the village center due to the lack of entertainment options. “Entertainment has to be another reason to go to Scarsdale Village,” said Douglass. “Respondents especially wanted reasons for visiting the area in the evening, although reasons to come to the village center at any time of day will revitalize the area. Classes, demonstrations, education, socialization opportunities and the like need to be considered. Downtown Scarsdale needs to attract the diversity of interests that local residents demand, which will go far to establish a greater sense of community.”

In particular, the survey results yielded several factors that would increase traffic: adding more casual dining options, and a brew pub or wine bar, as well as an entertainment venue, such as a movie theater. Despite the quality of Scarsdale’s schools and the significant number of school-aged children living here, there was relatively little support for adding a party or sports facility targeting children. “The data strongly suggests that eateries and establishments serving alcohol are the top categories that should be pursued for vacancies in the village center, and that casual dining is the most desirable option in that category,” reported Douglass.

The Upshot
The consumer survey data will guide the Downtown Revitalization Committee as it works to define the combination of uses that best reflect the community's preferences, capture market opportunities, build on local assets and strengthen the community's identity. After reviewing results of the poll, it made several recommendations:

  • Expand the availability and diversity of grocery and beverage options, such as specialty stores and the farmer's market, as well as upgrade existing facilities
  • Expand restaurant and other dining options, including family dining
  • Improve retail diversity and services to balance the current concentration of a limited type of providers
  • Provide space for entertainment and cultural event programming
  • Implement practical solutions to parking availability, and address aggressive parking enforcement issues
  • Improve parks and other green spaces in the village center to create more welcoming, usable community spaces
  • Establish a coordinating body to study similar regional municipalities and the implementation of best practices to ensure a thriving downtown environment

In commenting on the survey and report, Douglass said, "Our recommendations should be considered by the stakeholders who can act upon them, in particular, village officials, landlords, merchants, village boards and councils, and independent agencies." She continued, "We intend to work with these stakeholders and other interested parties to further study the issues and implement our recommendations.”

Next Steps
Not wasting any time, the committee already has formed working groups to address issues raised by the survey. Douglass reported, “These volunteers will consider solutions for the lack of parking and issues regarding parking enforcement; will meet one-on-one with stakeholders to discuss our findings and develop solutions for the village center; and sit down with specific stakeholders identified in the survey to review issues raised by consumers.”

The committee also is studying the data from an in-depth survey completed by 75 village center merchants, a sizable survey sample. It plans to complete its analysis and write a summary report over the summer, which, no doubt, will include additional suggestions based on merchants’ points of view and provide another crucial piece for solving the puzzle that is Downtown Scarsdale.

A copy of the full consumer survey report is available here.

Jennifer PalmieriOn Thursday night June 7 at 7:30 pm the Scarsdale Adult School will host a special event with a New York Times Best Selling Author, Jennifer Palmieri. Her book, Dear Madam President: An Open Letter to Women Who Will Rule the World is an empowering letter to the first woman president, and by extension, to all women working to succeed in any field. The evening will feature a conversation with Chris Riback, host of Chris Riback’s Conversations and whose politics podcast has been ranked No. 3 on iTunes News and Politics category. Tickets are available at www.ScarsdaleAdultSchool.org.

According to Riback, "Palmieri considers it all – history, gender, the campaign, Donald Trump – and offers advice to the girls and women who, as she puts it, will run the world.” He adds, “The book is incredibly reflective — In a time of #MeToo and even #EnoughisEnough, the result is a really thoughtful story that captures our times and provides clear insights about the future.”

An evening that is not for women only, we can all learn from Palmieri’s inspirational and practical advice for how we can make a difference today and for future of generations to come.

Jennifer Palmieri is the former Director of Communications for the Hillary Clinton 2016 presidential campaign. She served as White House Communications Director for U.S. President Barack Obama. Before her service at the White House, she served as the President of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Earlier, Palmieri was the National Press Secretary for the 2004 John Edwards presidential campaign and for the Democratic National Committee in 2002. She served as a Deputy White House Press Secretary, Special Assistant to White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta and Deputy Director of Scheduling and Advance in the Clinton White House.

Chris Riback (chrisriback.com) is co-founder of Good Guys Media Ventures and host of Chris Riback’s Dear Madam President book coverConversations - podcasts on politics, business, technology, science and the arts, including Political Wire Conversations, Investigating Breast Cancer, and Working Capital Conversations.

Chris’ Political Wire Conversations has been ranked No. 3 on iTunes News & Politics category. He also has served as guest host for a national show on the ABC radio network. Chris is co-author of “YOU WON, NOW WHAT? How Americans Can Make Democracy Work from City Hall to the White House” (Scribner), a political management book widely hailed by prominent politicians and journalists as a must-read for “anyone seeking to understand how American politics operates.” Good Guys Media Ventures incubates digital media properties — including Good Guys Podcasts — for businesses and non-profits, helping organizations connect with — and influence — audiences that matter.

Who: Jennifer Palmieri, Chris Riback, Scarsdale Adult School
What: Author Talk about Dear Madam President: An Open Letter to Women Who Will Rule the World
When: Thursday, June 7, 2018
Where: Scarsdale Middle School
Time: 7:30-8:30 pm. Book signing after talk
Price: $25 for standard admission; $40 for standard admission and hardcover book; Free for students 18 and under
Tickets: Purchase your tickets online at www.ScarsdaleAdultSchool.org

Contact: Jill Serling, Executive Director of Scarsdale Adult School. 914-723-2325 or Director@ScarsdaleAdultSchool.org.

the little mermaid 5Travel under the sea with the senior class this weekend. Directed by Camila Tardiff and assistant director Sophia Roth, along with musical director Hudson Lin, Disney’s The Little Mermaid will be this years senior class play. The cast and crew has been working intensely on the production which will be onstange this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The play stars Caroline Stemmerman as Ariel and Jacob Greenberg as Prince Eric, alongside Chloe Faegenburg as Flounder, Camila Grisanti as Sebastian, Jolie Suchin as Ursula, and Eashan Panjwani as King Triton.

the little mermaid 6Everything in the play is done by students, from choreography, costumes, and makeup, to publicity. The seniors have worked tirelessly to make sure the show goes on without a hitch.

Both directors are in the drama club and therefore could not participate on stage, however, they decided to take part in the production in a different way. “Because I couldn't be in it I decided to do the other side of theater which is directing and producing,” commented Roth. “So many of my friends decided to do this production so it's been fun to share this experience with them. I’ve been able to work together with them and meet new people that I've never had classes with before and form a bond with them through singing, dancing and acting”

As much as the two directors have taken away from this experience, they have faced some challenges. “It’s been pretty difficult to assemble a group of people… Most of the people in the show have never done a show before, with a few exceptions,… for Camila and I it was mostly introducing them to the world of theater, the rules and courtesy of doing a show and how to be respectful of their cast mates, their directors and supervisors,” said Roth. “I give any director I've ever worked with a lot of credit because now I know how much work goes into it”

the little mermaid 7After much consideration The Little Mermaid was chosen as the senior class play due to the large character list which allows many people to participate. “It's one of my favorites and its a ton of fun, great music and characters,” noted Roth. “Were really excited to put this on we hope a lot of people come to see it. A lot of work has gone into it.”

Come see the play this weekend, May 17 and May 18 at 7:00pm and May 19 at 2:00pm in the Scarsdale High School Auditorium. Tickets will be sold at the door or buy your tickets online here.

deciccos5DeCicco's was hit hard by a Jeep, midday on Monday.Just before noon on Monday May 21, there was the screech of brakes, the sound of breaking glass and a loud boom in Scarsdale Village. Shoppers looked out their windows and saw a white jeep in the window of DeCiccos Market on East Parkway.

It turns out that a confused 16 year-old teen hit the gas pedal instead of the brake, jumped the curb and headed straight for the store in her 2018 Jeep Wrangler. The accident shattered the front glass windows and turned over the coffee station in front of the check out counters.

Fortunately no one was seriously injured though one of the workers at the check out was scraped and bruised and removed from the scene by Scarsdale Volunteer Ambulance Corps.

One shopper reported that surprisingly, the incident barely stopped any of the shoppers or workers in the store or on the street. After a moments pause, everyone was back to business.

This is not the first time a car was driven into DeCicco's. In July 2012 a 64 year-old woman drove her car into the windows on the other side of the entry to DeCiccos, breaking the plate glass windows, taking down salad dressing and mayonnaise and leaving the lingering odor of vinegar in the store. A 97 year-old passenger was in the car at the time.

(Photo credit: Susan Jureller)deciccos4Police and SVAC rushed to the scene.deciccos2The Jeep shattered the front window and took down the coffee counter

deciccos3The Jeep knocked out the front window of the market.

AaronPankenHundreds of mourners from near and far came to Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale on Tuesday May 8 to pay their respects to Rabbi Aaron Panken, a leader of the Jewish Reform Movement and the twelfth President of Hebrew Union College who died in a plane accident at the age of 53 on Saturday May 5. The synagogue overflowed with visitors, with mourners filling the main sanctuary and spilling over to an adjacent room to watch the proceedings on monitors.

The service was led by colleagues and family members, all who were rabbis and cantors, who knew Panken intimately and were deeply shaken by his loss. They eulogized Panken, noting his deep knowledge of the Talmud, his impact on his colleagues, trainees, family and friends and his vision for the Jewish movement here and around the globe. Both Panken’s sister Melinda Panken and his sister in law Sarah Messinger are rabbis, and they participated and shared more personal comments about the Aaron they knew as a boy, teen, father and friend.

WRT Rabbi Jonathan Blake opened with the question that was on everyone’s mind; saying, “How can this be? He was right here three weeks ago celebrating WRT’s 65th anniversary… He was wise and witty.... Now there are no words, only fathomless grief. When a sage dies, we have no one like him.”

Rabbi Sarah Messinger introduced three speakers; Rabbi Larry Hoffman, author and professor at HUC, Rabbi David Stern of Temple Emanu-El in Dallas and President of the Reform movement’s Central Conference of American Rabbis and Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the former rabbi at WRT who now serves as the President of the Union for Reform Judaism. All three spoke of Panken’s intellect, compassion and humanity.

Hoffman, who worked with Panken at HUC said that Panken had “a double major in vision, competence and intellect and at the same time plain goodness and sweetness.” He called him, “thoughtful, modest and independent,” and said he was a Talmudist who “never stopped studying.” He said that Panken was loved by so many of his students, and exclaimed, “Look how many have come from around the world today.” Noting Panken’s good character, Hoffman said, “One who lives without blame, who does what is right, such a one shall never be shaken…. The tragedy is he was just hitting his stride, just putting the puzzle together when he was taken from us.”

Panken had been scheduled to ordain this year’s class of rabbis and cantors on Sunday May 6, the day after the accident. Hoffman said, “He was planning to ordain the rabbis. He was going to tell them to take a stand, to commit themselves to a better world… On behalf of this college we will complete the sermon for you and give it to your ordainees.” He concluded with a promise, “You remain our rabbi, even in death. We vow that you will not have worked and dreamed in vain.”

Rabbi David Stern said he had “been meaning to ask Aaron a Talmud question this week. Here is the question. The text says that the priest chosen to remove the ashes from the alter – there was no lamp in his hand. Why – he could walk by the light of the flames in the alter? Or to keep his hands unencumbered? I wanted to ask if its good for a rabbi to show up empty handed for the service. … I can’t ask him my question now. I can cite him as my answer. He showed up empty handed everyday, empty handed as in open hearted and open handed.”

Stern discussed Panken’s love of electronics and the opera, and his ability to as an electrical engineer to understand gadgets and fix things. He called Panken “The rarest of breeds – a rabbi who could fix stuff.” He mentioned his love of travel, “to experience and to know more”…. and how he proudly showed Stern his hand steamer to prepare his suits for his many trips. Stern said it was “fun to disagree with him because he was smart, stubborn and practical.” According to Stern, Panken “had a great sense of play and wicked sense of humor.”

Stern discussed Panken’s special relationship with Jack Stern, David’s father, also a former rabbi at WRT. About Panken, Stern said, “My father adored Aaron. Aaron was the favorite Stern child. When the young couple (Aaron and Lisa) showed up they were greeted with a warm embrace and a punch list… the printer, the television, the air conditioner. He had a huge heart and the patience to make it all work. …For all of his achievements – he never stopped being a rabbi to us when my mother was dying and when my father was there alone. He made Jack Stern laugh or made him proud. He could put things together like printer cables and broken hearts. He was a mensch beyond measure.”

Stern continue, “He loved sailing and he loved flying. He had a thing for the water and the wind. I believe he was most at home in the sky and in the water. He has fallen from a Sabbath sky and our hearts are broken. If a bunch of broken hearts together can make things whole, we can try.”

He vowed, “Let Aaron’s example guide our way. These are dark days. He taught us how to sail by a night sky. Good night sweet prince, flights of angels sing you to your rest.”

Rabbi Rick Jacobs said he originally met Panken in the 1980’s when Panken interviewed to be his intern. He said he was originally puzzled by Aaron, thinking, “Who is this guy? A degree in electrical engineering from Johns Hopkins – if I needed someone to fix the AV at the synagogue, he was the one. He also played guitar. Either he was a complete misfit or an extraordinary gem of a human being.”

Jacobs said, “Rabbi Panken recruited, taught and mentored a new generation of Jewish leaders. He modeled how to lead a Jewish life. Greatness and goodness flowed forth from this remarkable man.”

He said that Aaron had come to Judaism at an early age, asking his parents to send him to religious school. He met his wife Lisa Messinger at Camp Eisner in Great Barrington. About Aaron he said, “You could have dropped Aaron into any room in our movement. He possessed all of God’s leadership gifts.” He called Aaron’s love of Israel, “full throated and constant,” and said he advocated for a more inclusive and pluralistic Israel.”

He called for everyone to “Be disciples of Aaron. How do Aaron’s disciples conduct themselves? They spend their days loving and pursuing peace. Today this sanctuary is filled with the many disciples of Rabbi Aaron Panken who aspire to bring us to the deep water…Pursue peace and love all of God’s children.”

Jacobs also noted that Panken was unique, “In the Talmud there are some sages that are irreplaceable. Aaron Panken can never ever be replaced.”

Panken’s father Peter Panken shared his stories of watching Aaron grow up. He said that after getting his undergraduate degree at Johns Hopkins Aaron carefully weighed his decision about a profession, telling his father, “I want a vocation which requires life long learning. I want to spend my time helping other people. I want to teach and mentor other people. I want to be a force for good, a community leader. He thought about medical school or a PhD in engineering but decided that what he wanted to do was at the heart of the rabbi’s profession.” He said that Aaron called his parents everyday, from all over the world and said, “Aaron we will miss your calls and we will miss you our son.”

His sister Rabbi Melinda Panken said that she and her brother “grew up laughing,” and described a joyful home and raucous family dinners. She said, “laughing was Aaron’s coping mechanism.” She looked up to him, and said, “I loved my big brother so much that I would do anything he told me to do.” She continued, “I will especially miss his Seders, 25 charosets, reading the Aramaic, shaking the table when Elijah came in the door, the pounding on the table.”

She then told a story that perhaps foreshadowed Panken’s fate. She said the family was on vacation in Martha’s Vineyard when Aaron was eight years old. He was outside riding his bike and they went to check on him but couldn’t find him. They started searching and finally found him at a nearby airstrip, sitting inside a plane. She ended by saying, “Aaron was taken to soon, with too much left undone for our family and the Jewish people.”

Sarah Messinger remembered meeting Aaron “the geeky guy” at Camp Eisner. She called him "genuine, honest and sensitive.” She remembers Aaron admiring her sister Lisa from afar, and told Lisa, “he loved and respect you. You decorated his life with love and laughter.” She told Panken’s children, “You were the jewels that adorned your father’s heart. He will always be with you because you are each the best parts of him. … May his name be a blessing.”

Former Scarsdale resident Cantor Tamara Wolfson, who was ordained on Sunday May 6 at a ceremony at Congregation Emanuel that Panken planned to lead, said, “A few days ago, you taught me that the Talmud says that smicha doesn’t always require laying hands on someone’s head — that it is enough for a community to recognize you as their leader for smicha to be granted. But all I wanted was that moment. You and me before the open ark. You had an ability to bless, to teach, to really hear people, to inspire people — unlike anyone I’ll ever know. I knew I’d wrestle with God forever, but this is a new fight. And I plan to channel all my shock and anger and grief and sadness into being exactly the kind of leader you challenged us all to be through your example. That’s the only thing left to do.”

It was evident that Panken touched so many lives and will be missed first by his family, but also by his Scarsdale friends, his colleagues, his students, and the international Jewish community. Though his life was cut short, he made an extraordinary contribution in the time he was here.

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