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As Businesses Struggle, Economic Development Corporation Seeks Funds

The newly reconstituted Fair Lawn Economic Development Corporation, which previously offered programs that business owners say would help in the current climate, has been left searching for the money to do its job.

Stephen Chen came in to open his Yogurt Plus on Plaza Road last Thursday morning to find that his next door neighbor had closed down—a common occurrence lately in the two block radius of his Radburn store.  

The darkened lights next to his shop join a chorus of empty storefronts around the borough, which three months ago prompted Fair Lawn to reactivate an Economic Development Corporation (EDC) that has long been—and still is—left unfunded.

“It’s very scary,” Chen said, pointing to a paper sign in the window of OXXO Care Cleaner’s, the only notice given of its decision to shut its doors. The closings of other businesses, including the Radburn Deli, Picnic, and the Track Side Grille, have taken a toll on business in the area, he says. The fewer storefronts, the less foot traffic and opportunity for new customers.

Plus, the sinking thought: “Maybe you’re the next one.”

Such struggles led Fair Lawn then Deputy Mayor John Cosgrove to push the council to reconstitute the EDC three months ago, after a “dormant” period following a vote by the Borough Council in early 2011 not to fund the corporation.

“I don’t think that Fair Lawn can sit on the sidelines in this economic climate and watch businesses leave or not try to attract new businesses,” Cosgrove said.

The EDC had previously been active, with the goal of financing studies of business districts in town to determine where and how Fair Lawn’s business climate could be improved.

Its biggest success, chairman Steven Kiel says, was commissioning a 2007 study of the Industrial Park along the 208 corridor that led to zoning and parking recommendations, as well as strategies for upgrading industrial buildings. The $49,000 study was paid for through grants from Bergen County and the Borough of Glen Rock, as well as by money raised privately by the EDC.

In 2012, Patch reported that seven of Fair Lawn’s top 10 taxpayers inhabited the corridor.

The council gave approval for the EDC to become active once more in exploring ways to “recruit and retain” Fair Lawn businesses, but did not approve any funding.

“We still don’t have funding,” said Kiel. “We’re trying to explore other areas right now so we can get it.”

The corporation has previously been financed by organizations like the Broadway and River Road Improvement Corporations, Chamber of Commerce, and Radburn Association, as well as by private businesses. But private money could not support the kind of study that the EDC pursued with the Industrial Park, and state and county grants have no longer been available.

“Everybody wasn’t willing to go on forever putting in their own money,” member Stuart Herrmann said.

The Broadway and River Road Improvement Corporations already exist to advocate for businesses in those districts, but there is currently no comparable promoter for other commercial districts in the borough.

“There are other areas, other sections of Fair Lawn that have businesses that don’t have BIC and RIC that would benefit from some kind of program,” Kiel said.

One area of focus was initially Radburn, where so many of the recent store closings have occured. But the corporation has never been able to secure funding for a large scale evaluation of the section.

“The original focus of the EDC was to try to get a study of the area in Radburn. It kind of got sidetracked a little bit,” Hermann told Patch.

“We never really got a chance to do it because we had other projects that came up that needed help right away, and we were only a volunteer board,” he added. “We couldn’t get funding from the town to move forward.”

The EDC has for years spoken to NJ Transit to pursue grants to fund potential projects, Kiel says, but has so far been unsuccessful. “The Radburn train station is one of the busiest stations on the Bergen line, so you would think NJ Transit would have some kind of interest in helping us there,” Kiel said.

It has also reached out to the county, which previously funded a low interest loan program through a $125,000 grant. The county also distributed, through the EDC, grants to small businesses for sign and awning improvements.

These kinds of programs, Radburn storeowners say, would help support business in the current climate.

“I know some of the other storeowners around here would like to able to put money into their businesses and to grow them from that point, but money isn’t available,” said Mitch Palin, a chamber of commerce vice president and owner of Minuteman Press on Fair Lawn Avenue. “The banks have not been generous with small business owners.”

He said assistance in accessing loans would be particularly helpful in the present economic climate, as while banks have tightened their lending many small businesses also have tighter balance sheets to present to loan officers.

“You’re kind of in a Catch-22 situation.”

Chen added that lighting and signs to help increase visibility would bring in new foot traffic and interest in his section of town, but that such projects are out of reach for individual business owners.

The reactivated EDC is still in its preliminary stages, exploring both strategy and ways to secure funding, and will in its next phases reach out to business owners and present a plan to the council.

But there is no indication yet when funding may be forthcoming to revive programs previously offered by the corporation, even as businesses owners lookout for the financial assistance and advocacy they say would help them survive through tough times.

“We’re looking to see what we can do with limited resources, looking to see what can be done, and we’re going pick a cause and we’re going to work towards it,” Herrmann said. “And as we do that we’ll hopefully be able to get some people to put money towards whatever we think we need to do.”

LENNY January 21, 2013 at 08:55 PM
save the tax payers money no study needed. THE RENTS ARE JUST TO HIGH IN THAT BUILDING AND AREA. just ask the players the store owners !
study 4 less January 21, 2013 at 09:25 PM
umm people dont go out to eat as much as they used to and dont spend as much on things they dont need, there's your study, ill take a check for $10,00 and save the town some money on more stupid studies by companies that dont produce anything, just make their money by convincing people their "service" is needed. while i heard great things about picnic im not going to go there when i can get a great early bird meal at davias and have a nice dinner out with my family for half the price. radburn deli was never the same when they kept switching owners, swiss pork store and giovannis are donig great because they consistantly have a good product. taxes are too high and the only way for that to change is if the landloard has empty buildings collecting no rent and would hopefully decrease the rent eventually. if you do decide to open a business make sure it is a quality product that people can afford.
Stuart Pace January 21, 2013 at 10:27 PM
These businesses didn't have the customer base around in the immediate area to support these types of businesses. Plain and simple. The population has changed in town and that population doesn't support find dining and delis.
exhausted January 22, 2013 at 01:01 AM
Taxes rose while houses were devalued forcing those on the fiscal edge to move, selling or renting their homes The result is a less community oriented "resident" who has neither the means or desire to patronize the businesses or be involved,(in anything) Welcome to the fruits of 10years of Democratic control
BellairBerdan January 22, 2013 at 01:49 AM
Let the Radburn Association pay for the survey with some of the money they make from Landmark. Radburn wants to think of itself as Ridgewood. It isn't. It's Fair Lawn and Fair Lawn has always been a town for an emerging middle class, whether they came from Paterson in the 40-50's, the Bronx in the 60's or Russia in the 80's. The finest restaurant Radburn had in the past was Bamboo East. The immediate area has added many potential customers in high density housing. It has also added much more traffic. What it hasn't added is parking or better ways for pedestrians to cross the streets of these busy intersections to patronize the businesses or the type of businesses that encourage browsing and window shopping.
Me January 22, 2013 at 02:11 PM
Is that you Jimmy McMillan? http://www.mediaite.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/Picture-213.png
es January 22, 2013 at 02:28 PM
The Radburn Association has an interest in only two buildings there: the Plaza Building and the Dutch House. Other businesses that use the name "Radburn" to advertise their services do not provide any financial support.
Jeff Davis January 22, 2013 at 06:44 PM
The Republic of Radburn shall rise again! If Radburn left Fair Lawn to become its own town, there is no question we would be better off financially.
Jules Vernon January 22, 2013 at 07:29 PM
Absolutely true, plus it appears the landlord would rather have empty properties than collect a bit less in rent.
Jules Vernon January 22, 2013 at 07:30 PM
Hopefully when Radbutrn moves ahead with the Landmark and Daley development, that will mean more people and more business.
Jules Vernon January 22, 2013 at 07:34 PM
So are you saying that we should settle for less than mediocrity because it's always been lower middle to middle class? So we are doomed to be a borough of Dollar Stores.
BellairBerdan January 22, 2013 at 08:47 PM
No Jules. I am saying know your audience. There is nothing wrong with being middle class. You've just sold off Daly Field not for single family homes but for high density housing. The people that buy these type of units usually either can't afford a single family home or don't want the community attachment. Now you can make believe you're something you're not, but when the landlords charge rents that businesses can't possibly pay and make a profit, or you open a business where the people can't afford what you're selling, THEN you're doomed. But that Dollar Store does a pretty good business, doesn't it? That is until the landlord decides to increase their rent to a level befitting a $100 Store.
Michael Agosta January 22, 2013 at 09:21 PM
The landlords have no choice in raising rents. They got hit with a 25.6% property tax increase from this current majority of 'Republicans.' The landlord is not going to eat the tax hike. they simply pass it down to their tenants, who, in turn, pass it down to us.
Radburngal January 22, 2013 at 09:50 PM
Picnic was not a local restaurant, it was more of a destination special occasion spot. The deli went downhill with the new owner, nothing was fresh or interesting. He didn't even sell juice milk papers or bread. Trackside had been going downhill for years. We don't need a study to explain what is going on.
CHARLES COLES January 22, 2013 at 10:31 PM
Besides the soft economic climate the business' in Fair Lawn have been getting pounded with tax hikes of 25-30 % It really is absurd to think the a local business can swallow that big of increase at once. You will see more closings and empty stores in the near future
Mark C. January 24, 2013 at 04:02 PM
I went to Picnic as often as I could. They had plenty of.pre fixed dinners. I miss that place.
Bill January 24, 2013 at 08:44 PM
It's funny, we usually ended up spending more when we had the prix fixe dinner at Picnic. But we never ordered salads or apps. With each of us ordering an entree or two small plates, plus a moderately priced bottle of wine, we usually walked out paying the same or less than we would have at Davia. (And I do love the food at Davia. Nice people too.)
Dan January 28, 2013 at 10:59 PM
For my family, the main problem with dining in Fair Lawn is that it is not a destination. There is no where to walk to, nothing to see. Just boring suburbia. And Radburn area is not really walkable easier; you have to wait for the cars to stop forever. So that is why we typically drive 10 minutes to Ridgewood...
Chris Antonelli January 29, 2013 at 07:59 PM
Not true, Mike. The rent in that building is what forced a pizzeria out of business, Dunkin Donuts to move back across the street as well as the other casualties. This happened long before the Republican majority. I would attribute it to either a bad economy or bad planning in regards to running a business. I would probably lean towards the former.
Michael Agosta January 29, 2013 at 08:03 PM
The 25.6% commercial property tax increase dies not influence business in Fair Lawn?
Gone2tx January 31, 2013 at 04:11 PM
The plaza building owner won't work with anyone and raises the rent every year where other buildings at the very least are getting no increases. We were sad to sell especially with the store being in my family for do long but with the rent increases there was no surviving. We do miss you all ~ perhaps we will open a deli here in Texas :) fair lawn/radburn should get involved with. The landlords

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