Despite economic challenges presented by COVID-19, the historic Borough of Flemington, N.J., announced that 16 retail businesses have opened in the 1-square-mile borough in the past 12 months, 13 of which are exclusively local. The community, the seat of Hunterdon County and home to more than 400 businesses, led a unified effort to support its business community during the pandemic, which in turn helped attract new openings, according to the Flemington Community Partnership (FCP), which manages its downtown areas.
Mayor Betsy Driver lauded the resiliency of Flemington’s businesses during the public health crisis – a strength that speaks to the borough’s potential for business growth. The community, approximately 60 miles southwest of New York City in central New Jersey, is experiencing sustained small-business growth, as sought-after shops and restaurants open in diverse core business areas.
“Our historic Central Jersey community swiftly adapted to new market conditions, pursuing an active, ‘open for business’ plan,” said Driver. “We continue to explore ideas of how to promote and support our local businesses, focusing on our many boutiques, cafes and other shops, and pursuing the larger, long-term, community-appropriate redevelopment and revitalization.”
According to FCP Executive Director, Robin Lapidus, Flemington helped provide signage, advertisements, visuals assets and promotions to assist customers in understanding when local businesses were open for online, curbside or walk-in business as restrictions changed. These marketing and communication activities helped make the borough an attractive location for small businesses looking to open.
Lapidus stated: “The pandemic renewed interest in shopping closer to home, required greater communication with business owners, and awakened everyone to the absolute need to support local businesses or see them perish.”
Dave Norton, co-owner of a new Main Street business, said: “Despite the challenges of 2020, we were fortunate that the space we always admired opened up on Main Street and we were able to fast-track our dream to open ‘The Corner,’ a retail store and photography studio, in January 2021.”
The Corner Co-Owner, Ally Norton, added, “We felt encouraged by local civic leaders, the FCP and other neighboring businesses that this was a sound business move, one that would help move our community in a positive direction. We live a short walk from The Corner and plan to remain here as our family, our business and the community grows. We feel really strongly that Flemington is our home, and we are committed to investing in it to continue to make it a lively and thriving town.”
Paul Marciano, chair of the FCP board and author of “Let’s Talk About It: Turning Confrontation into Collaboration at Work,” said: “We hope that the momentum of our community planning and constructive dialogue about the future will continue to attract neighbors and business owners desiring to build an equitable and creative community in Flemington Borough.”
He added: “We believe that our well-situated borough in the heart of Central New Jersey, with our small-town feel, is ripe with opportunities to become a highly desirable walkable, authentic and beautiful historic place where many will want to live, work, play and create.”
Flemington recently hired urban development experts, Stantec’s Urban Places, to gather extensive community input, revitalize several core business districts, and improve overall walkability and livability. The firm will present its findings in March 2021. The project is funded by the November 2019 Opportunity Zone grant award of $100,000 from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA). Flemington was one of just five recipients of the NJEDA grant, and New Jersey’s only rural community.
According to planners at Stantec, the borough is well-positioned to offer a vibrant downtown that addresses emerging real estate trends.
Jeff Sauser, senior associate and urban planner at Stantec, added: “We are going through a dramatic shift. Singles and couples without children will make up the majority of new homeowners. They’ll be looking to settle in communities that are walkable, with downtowns that offer amenities such as coffee shops, restaurants and outdoor cafes.”
This planning initiative is being led by Flemington’s mayor and council, the FCP, the Hunterdon County Chamber of Commerce and the Hunterdon County Office of Economic Development.
Flemington-based developer, Jack Cust, also recently began façade restoration for the borough’s famed 15-room Union Hotel (circa 1814), along with the redevelopment of Courthouse Square (to house 200-plus residential units and 20,000 square feet of retail/restaurant space and an outdoor plaza). Additionally, the 162,000-square-foot and formerly highly trafficked Liberty Village, notably America’s first outlet mall, also awaits future redevelopment as new owners seek community input on future use.
“We plan to continue Flemington’s history of innovation – in agriculture, commerce, crafts, railways and more – in our pursuit of placemaking, community building and sustainable growth for the future,” said Lapidus.
New or expanding businesses in Flemington include:
- Men’s Barber Shop
- Nature’s EnerQi
- Stork’s NEST European Deli
- Theresa’s Café
- Dream Cakes
- Koros Wargames
- Premiere Waxing Boutique
- Stefanie’s Hair Salon
- 30 Mine – in new, larger location
- Act II – in new, larger location
- Echelon Studio – in new, larger location
- Action Bid or Buy
- Swing Set & Toy Warehouse
- Red Crab Juicy Seafood
- Lash Lounge
- Slim Chickens
- The Corner (January 2021)