More residents moving to Hudson County means more customers for small shops and services, but can these businesses keep going in the face of changing tastes and big box stores? Shop owners throughout the county said last week that they were optimistic due to increased sales opportunities and revitalizations of the business districts.
For instance, in Guttenberg, the 12-block waterfront town that’s the smallest in Hudson County, two very different businesses saw new clientele.
Park Arts & Music Center on Park Avenue offers private lessons in guitar and piano, and is looking to add clientele by incorporating new seasonal art shows and recitals for children. With new residents in the area and new charter schools come more families.
“We might also have a summer program, a half-day program; a Monday through Friday camp-like thing,” said Katherine Moreno. “We’ll do art; we’ll do music.”
And then there are the family pets. Hounds on the Hudson on 68th Street, a day care center and boarding house for dogs, is doing well, but hopes to do better by using social media advertising, according to owner Kim Pamperin.
“I’m hoping to see an increase,” Pamperin said. “I’m feeling positive.”
“We listen to parents, and then adjust to their needs.” – Maddy Miqueli
The administration of Mayor Dawn Zimmer believes the recently approved Washington Street Revitalization Plan and First Street streetscape improvements (the latter scheduled for the spring) will help the city’s small business community.
“Off of our main commercial corridors, established businesses are expanding and new businesses are opening at storefronts that have stood vacant for years since Hurricane Sandy,” Zimmer said.
She cited Little City Books, which opened in the last year, as one of the more recent success stories. The store is off Washington Street on Bloomfield. And four blocks off Washington, Willow Pharmacy, established in 1912, continues to keep its place in the city by something that never goes out of style: good customer service.
“You survive by knowing your customers, providing individual service, and treating people like people, instead of like numbers,” said owner Frank Lavinio.
The store is using technology to expand its customer base, including the use of a phone app.
Leo’s Grandevous on Grand Street has been around since 1939. It has stayed one of Hoboken’s most popular eateries by changing with the times. Originally, it catered to blue collar workers from the city’s factories during the height of the manufacturing era. But as times changed, it became more family oriented, changing its environment and offering more specials.
“It’s just an old-school, good food, Italian restaurant,” said general manager Grace Sciancalepore. “We don’t try to be the Four Seasons. We don’t put on any airs.”
The restaurant is also known for having a jukebox that plays only Sinatra tunes.
The biggest city
Jersey City is among the state’s leaders in spurring growth for its small businesses.
Mayor Steven Fulop recently announced a package of three new initiatives to help support Jersey City’s growing small business community. They include a “one stop shop” online portal for small businesses, an audit of the small business permitting and licensing process, and the creation of Jersey City’s first Office of Small Business.
“Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy, adding texture and diversity to our communities and neighborhoods and providing jobs to local residents,” Fulop said.
In addition, Fulop has announced the start of two new loan programs to serve local business owners and entrepreneurs. The EDA Microloan Fund offers $1,000 to $5,000 loans at low interest rates. The Small Business Investors Fund is a forgivable loan program available to small business owners in underserved commercial corridors. The funds may go toward a variety of store upgrades, startup costs, and other uses. The program is funded by a $50,000 grant from Investors Bank.
Things are good at Feena Boutique on Grove Street, a niche shop selling Portuguese cultural products, accessories, and gifts.
“We’re definitely forecasting a lot more growth just due to the fact that Jersey City in general is growing and the new residential buildings are opening up,” said owner Elizabeth Casalinho. “Just on that alone, we’re hoping to double our traffic as compared to last year. We’re right downtown, in the middle of everything.”
Further north in Hudson
Overall, the picture for small businesses in North Bergen is a good one, with about an 85 percent occupancy rate, according to city spokesman Phil Swibinski.
“The existing businesses are really thriving; remaining open, and doing well,” he said.
Swibinski cited the township’s two distinct business corridors — Bergenline Avenue and Broadway — as walkable for those without a car.
Among their small businesses doing well are the city’s ethnic restaurants, whether they be Cuban, Indian, Italian, Peruvian, or some other specialty.
“It runs the gamut of so many different cultures,” Swibinski said. “That’s one of the things Mayor Nicholas Sacco is so proud of. New cuisines in town show the demand for the food and also the diversity of the township.”
Swibinski pointed to the recent opening of the Bottle Co. as an “interesting addition” to North Bergen’s array of shops. The high-end liquor store includes a tasting room and classes on food and wine/beer pairing.
Eye Contact Vision Center owner Bob Ceragno says a lot of his Bergenline Avenue store’s business comes through word of mouth, something he would like to see continue.
“We’re always looking to give the best service and quality that we can at affordable prices,” he said. “It’s about making people aware that there are good places to shop.”
In densely populated Union City, small businesses and unique ethnic restaurants also thrive. There is no room for the big-box stores that threaten so many other areas.
And the small commercial lots that open up are quickly filled with tenants, according to city spokeswoman Erin Knoedler. “When we do have them, it’s usually only a one-month turnover,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of properties that sit.”
The administration of Mayor Brian Stack is pro-small businesses and will do anything it can to help them succeed.
“We encourage any small business,” Knoedler said. “The mayor will meet with anybody. They can come in and we’ll point them in the right direction. We’ll point them to the Small Business Administration or to banks that would loan them money.”
Union City opposes the federal government’s possible closing of the Hudson County SBA office and is lobbying against it. Stack is also the state senator for the 33rd Legislative District.
“In his senator capacity, he’d like to see it remain open and be a gateway for small businesses to open up in the area and provide services for entrepreneurs,” Knoedler said.
The newly opened Anthony’s Pizza & Restaurant on Park Avenue is one of the successful small businesses in Union City. Owner George Guirguis says his pizzeria stands out from the franchise pizza chains because nothing is formulaic in his shop.
“They’re different from us. They use frozen food, frozen dough, and frozen sauce,” he said. “We don’t use any of those products. Everything here is made from scratch.”
Expansion may be on the horizon for Anthony’s. They hope to open another site if they find a suitable location.
Next door, Weehawken also lacks big box stores.
Mayor Richard Turner said that stores on Park Avenue, and at the mini-mall at the Acme supermarket, are among the dozens of mom-and-pop and other small businesses that provide the foods, goods, and services that make Weehawken run.
Among them are delicatessens, bakeries, flower shops, and fast food outlets. There are also a number of pizza parlors and Italian restaurants. A big favorite of locals is Charrito’s Mexican restaurant on Boulevard East.
“On the waterfront, it’s the five restaurants, and they all seem to be doing well,” he said. “There are retail stores in UBS at Hartz Mountain, and they’re doing fine. Almost all made it through the recession.”
Turner said there will be a number of startups over the next few months. A new dance studio just opened up on a property that used to house a wood shop.
And in West New York, Domenick Ranaudo can tell you two reasons why he knows the state of small businesses is a good one. One is that he runs Sal’s Pizzeria, a successful business on Bergenline Avenue. The other is that he’s the president of West New York Chamber of Commerce, the organization charged with attracting and helping new businesses in town.
Most of the small businesses in West New York are doing well, after having weathered the recession.
“They are working longer hours and working harder,” Ranaudo said.
But there are other reasons they are surviving, and even thriving: personal service and attention to detail.
“They’ll give you better prices, too,” he said. “Most places will beat any price in the malls.”
Services like beauty parlors, nail salons, and medical offices are doing well. Men’s and shoe stores are also prosperous.
Ranaudo said that there are only 12 vacant storefronts out of more than 300 in the municipality. The town and Chamber are supportive of these businesses, holding four sidewalk sales a year to drive business. An abundance of parking, on-street and in lots, has also helped.
“Mayor [Felix] Roque has authorized the administration to sit down with the chamber to discuss what the businesses need to help them and to pursue those initiatives,” city spokeswoman Natalia Novas said.
HLC Kids Academy, a day care center that opened in November, is flourishing.
“We’re doing well and definitely meeting our goals,” said owner and director Maddy Miqueli.
The academy is brand new, after its building was fully renovated. It benefits from the reputation of its sister Hudson Learning Center, around the corner in Union City. It’s successful because it is a small business, and not something larger.
“Our customers value security and safety, and they get that with a mom-and-pop place,” Miqueli said.
The day care centers draws not only from West New York and Union City, but from Weehawken and New York City as well.
Miqueli said that HLC expanded it services, adding academic components.
“We listen to parents, and then adjust to their needs,” she said. “Day care is not just babysitting anymore.”
Near the big box stores
While Secaucus has big box stores, it also has a lot of opportunity for small businesses. Mayor Michael Gonnelli says that his town is unique in that it has multiple downtowns, and therefore multiple places where a mom-and-pop store or other small business can prosper.
“We have the center of town, Harmon Meadow, and Xchange [at Secaucus Junction],” Gonnelli said. “There are multiple areas where people congregate, as if it was the center of town.”
Gonnelli said a number of new small businesses have opened or are opening in Secaucus, including a new bagel shop, a Colombian restaurant, Hudson Bread, and Enterprise car.
“We try to help promote them,” he said. “We have a few things we do.”
New residents get a welcome package with inserts and a Kiwanis Club-sponsored phone book that’s delivered to all residences.
The administration wants to make the town attractive to prospective small business shoppers. About $250,000 in improvements to sidewalks and curbs, new paving, and tree additions are expected.
“It should be a whole new downtown in the next year or two,” Gonnelli said.
In Bayonne, the city’s Urban Enterprise Zone supports its small businesses on its main shopping thoroughfare of Broadway and adjacent side streets, placing advertisements and holding events to bring people into the district, according to Terrence Malloy, the city’s chief financial officer and UEZ coordinator.
Attracting residential development to the avenue, and therefore more customers, is another way Bayonne is seeking to help small businesses.
In addition, the city’s “Shop Bayonne” card is an opportunity for homeowners to their lower out-of-pocket expense on property taxes through normal, everyday purchases of necessities and goods.
“It’s working great for some of the businesses involved in it, and it’s a bonus to customers as well,” Malloy said.
Vasantha Perera, owner of Andrew’s, a Broadway restaurant featuring healthy foods, is positive about the new year and where his business is going. Andrew’s features foods that are free of sugars, gluten, and wheat.
“People are looking for healthy food,” Perera said. “This is a place for everyone watching what they eat; soup to nuts, nothing refined, no chemicals.”
Andrew’s is drawing customers not just from this south Hudson city, but also Union and Bergen counties, Staten Island, and New York City.
Joseph Passantino may be reached at JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.