Empty Buildings, Bulging Accounts Focus of 'Metuchen Cares' Economic Forum

A collapsing economy aside, there's still money to be had for Metuchen businesses struggling to make ends meet. That was the takeaway message for some 60 people attending a packed economic forum sponsored by Metuchen Savings Bank and the Chamber of Commerce on Thurs., March 26, at the Spice Melange restaurant.

Still, the morning's burning question - how to attract new business and reopen shuttered stores in the borough's ailing downtown - loomed large on people's minds. David Glasofer, president of the Chamber said his organization is concerned and working with the mayor and council to make it easier for businesses to settle here by cutting through red tape. 

Norma Smith, a real estate agent with Caldwell Banker, saw a simpler fix: Dress up the downtown. "Go back to your businesses and see if your windows are clean," she urged shopkeepers. "Put flowers out so people will come here and see Metuchen as a nice town, as a small, warm place to visit."

Peter Loewy, whose dimmed Forum Theater marquee bears a "for lease" sign, showed up with a plea for financial and volunteer support to reopen a new, improved theater. He said he is calling a meeting, tentatively on April 30, to bring together businesses and residents - particularly neighbors who have fondly dubbed their sector of town the "theater district." Loewy hopes to reopen the onetime vaudeville venue as an entertainment anchor, with new children's programming, better seating, state-of-the-art projection equipment to show art films, a café and general sprucing up of the 1928 red-brick building inside and out. 

Concerns for Main Street extended to the other end of New Street as well. Some grumbled that the proposed Renaissance development might detract from an already hurting Main Street, but they were few. Borough Planner Jim Constantine announced the developers of the mixed-use project are moving forward. Project financing has been secured and the developer will come before the planning board in late spring. "We should see shovels in the ground soon after that," he added.

Speaking About Money

While locals spoke aesthetics, guest speakers wanted to talk money. The New Jersey Economic Development Authority's (EDA) Mike Mangin said recently approved legislation provides $120 million to help New Jersey businesses with cash grants for new jobs, capital investments and the Main Street Business Assistance Program, which guarantees up to 25 percent of a bank loan and provides lines of credit of up to $250,000. 

Erich Peter of the UCEDC, a statewide non-profit economic development corporation, described assistance provided by his organization - including access to capital; the scoop on government contract opportunities, and technical assistance, training and mentoring.

Carla Fallone spoke about the state's Small Business Development Centers (SBDC). The SBDC serving Middlesex County offers low-cost consulting for startups, "guerilla marketing" tips, business plan development, webinar training programs and more, she said.

The program featured noted financial writer and CPA Michael P. Cangemi. He focused on the subprime mortgage crisis, blaming it on 1977's Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) and one of its goals of homeownership for all. Metuchen Savings Bank's Vice President and Chief Lending Officer Kenneth R. Totten was careful to note that by following "old-fashioned" lending principles, his bank has not been affected by the crisis. But he said the notion of homeownership for almost anyone gave rise to absurd mortgage schemes, including NINA ("no income, no assets") and "NINJA" ("no income, no jobs") loans, all predicated on the idea that property values would eventually rise and borrowers refinance. "It was a house of cards destined to fail," he added.

But it was the YMCA's Chief Executive Officer Bill Lovett who left the crowd with a buoyant expression of optimism. "I'm seeing signs of recovery," he said. "I'm starting to believe we've hit bottom and now we just need to get back to basics." 

More Meetings Announced

Metuchen Savings Bank will host additional forums on other issues affecting downtown business, including a session in early June on "Recession Marketing."


What's a Bulldag?

Sign on door says "We will be closed."

Is Inspirations gone? I missed that one.

Or the flower shop, Inspirations?

Any news on status of Duchess Diner?

Thank you for the excellent report as to what happened here. It sounds like time well spent for the business owners in Metuchen. I hope that Jim is correct that shovels will be in the ground soon. The property owners of the dilapidated storefronts on Main Street need a wake up call that Metuchen deserves MUCh better than what has transpired the past couple of decades. I used to be very protectionist of our "Main Street" but it will be successful projects like Renaissance that will provide strong business operators with better options for success in Metuchen. It will only be then that the offending Main Street property owners who have sat on their wallets for decades will either sell to progressive owners or get with the program and spruce up their facades. The present business operators on Main Street have been held hostage by the property owners while paying increasing rents for the only game in town. This "economic downturn" has only served to provide the building owners on Main Street with a convenient excuse to allow our Main Street to disintegrate before our eyes. We all deserve much better. I am fed up and will have no problem walking an extra block or two to bring my business to support additional tax rateables in Bulldag country.

Hopefully Renaissance gets going soon

Tough going these days, keeping my fingers crossed

Wow, I commented on the article before it was written.

I agree that the merchants need to spruce up the place. If you don't care enough about your business to make it more inviting or even just to pick up the litter out front, why should anyone want to go there? Quaintly run down only cuts it in Vermont or Maine, not in New Jersey.

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Recent Comments

  • Anonymous: What's a Bulldag? read more
  • Anonymous: Sign on door says "We will be closed." read more
  • Anonymous: Is Inspirations gone? I missed that one. read more
  • Anonymous: Or the flower shop, Inspirations? read more
  • Anonymous: Any news on status of Duchess Diner? read more
  • Anonymous: Thank you for the excellent report as to what happened read more
  • Anonymous: Hopefully Renaissance gets going soon Tough going these days, keeping read more
  • Anonymous: Wow, I commented on the article before it was written. read more
  • Anonymous: I agree that the merchants need to spruce up the read more

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