I knew the exact reaction there would be when I found out the Planning Board would review an application for a new Italian restaurant downtown. "There's too many Italian restaurants."
But are there too many Italian restaurants?
La Pergola would be the third one to open in the last few months, joining Cafe Luna and Osteria Mediterrania. La Campagna has changed hands and will remain Italian as Cara Mia. Downtown also includes Basilico, La Cucina Ristorante & Seafood Grill, La Strada, Peter's, Trattoria Gian Marco and Semolina. We can debate if Pizzeta is Italian or not, but let's say it is for this column.
That's 11 Italian restaurants that could be downtown in the coming months. I've heard and read from plenty of readers who say "that's too much." People roll their eyes when they hear another Italian restaurant is opening downtown.
But if you talk to some of the restaurant owners they'll tell you competition is good. And all of those places seem to have regular customers who enjoy the food.
If you have a variety of offerings from each place, they could work together in a business district. The specialities at each may be different ranging from dessert to pasta to meat dishes. The atmosphere may be different at each place, and each has a different price level. Location in downtown can also play a part, like if someone is going to the Paper Mill Playhouse for a play.
If the restaurants continue to have customers, do well and don't close, how is it too many Italian restaurants? People aren't voting them out of town with their dollars.
And why aren't people raising concerns about the Asian-style restaurants downtown because there are several of those too.
What I think people want is a variety, though. I hear often people want a steakhouse other than Charlie Brown's. Someone recently questioned why a Mediterranian-style restaurant couldn't also offer Greek food. I understand the desire for different types of restaurants from people who are here all the time. I eat at least one meal per day in Millburn-Short Hills.
But it comes down to questioning how to attract the businesses you want downtown. The Downtown Millburn Development Alliance has talked about working to market downtown to bring in businesses people want. The Millburn-Short Hills Business Coalition did a survey a year ago to learn what people want as part of that process.
But remember, the business organizations don't own the buildings. If a space is vacant, the landlord is going to want to fill it and do so as quickly as possible. They may not wait for the right business or one the DMDA recruits to come along. Or they could even reject a business recruited to come to downtown Millburn for a variety of reasons.
There is a tipping point for any type of business in an area, Italian restaurants and others. It'll be hard go gauge if or when that is going to happen until businesses start closing.
But, as I've heard said by several people, an Italian restaurant is better than a vacant storefront.