Local merchants, who gathered Tuesday night at Bonte at the annual meeting of Main Street South Orange, say business is picking up after a brutally-slow winter and largely attributed it to the fine weather.
“The economy is not great, but we are surviving because so many people are shopping downtown,” said Main Street's executive director Carole Anzalone-Newman to a crowd of about 30 people. “It’s the only way we’ll survive. The message is really spreading.”
Robyn Fields, owner of Robyn Ross clothing boutique, says business has been “great” since the middle of March. She cites the weather and the female need for retail therapy as reasons.
The meeting brought together residents and business owners to showcase Main Street's offerings and accomplishments of the past year. It was also an opportunity to recruit new members and seek donations—the organization's primary source of financial support.
Main Street South Orange is a division of Main Street New Jersey. Started in 1991, it's the state’s longest-running chapter, and the mission is to drive more foot traffic to the downtown area and to encourage business owners to support each other. The organization is comprised almost entirely of volunteers, and in 2008, they put in 3,000 hours—an estimated $70,000 worth of time. Anzalone-Newman is the only paid staff member.
“Shopping malls have management. To a certain extent, Main Street tries to be the management here," said Village President Douglas Newman, who's married to Anzalone-Newman. "It’s wonderful when businesses come together to drive traffic from business to business.”
Among the new businesses that opened in the Village over the last year was Designer Loft West, co-owned by South Orange resident Paulette Cleghorn, who also operates locations in New York and Los Angeles.
“The store is a destination store, and it’s a great way to bring people to the area," said Cleghorn, who added that one of her clients recently ate breakfast at Bonte, shopped at Eden Gourmet and stopped at the Gaslight for dinner. She says she enjoys sending her customers to other shops.
“It’s a really supportive community [of storeowners],” she said. “Lisa Murray of Mia Cose Bella stops by at least twice a week to see if I need a coffee.”
Once they've moved to town, merchants can turn to Main Street for design advice, and in the past year, the design committee worked with stores and restaurants including Kitchen a la Mode, Rita’s Water Ice, Pirates Pizza and Antonella’s. There's also an economic development committee and a promotions committee that organizes events such as Celebrate South Orange.
Terrence and Patrice Brooks will become the Village's newest shop owners when they open Visions Barber Salon on May 31.
“I think it’s great we’re all on the same page.” Patrice Brooks said. “Everything is consistent that everyone wants here.”
In wrapping up the year, Anzalone-Newman said, “We’ve hit our stride and everyone is coming together to make South Orange great. We know it’s tough times, but we continue to be supported by the Village.”