By John Burton
It’s a tough road at the end of the year for businesses as they try to rebound from Super Storm Sandy and serve shoppers during the all important holiday season.
Shop and business owners in the area are urging residents to shop local.
“For Highlands we’re at a critical point,” said Carla Cefalo-Braswell, president of the Highlands Business Partnership. “It’s imperative that everybody shops local.”
Highlands, along the county’s Bayshore area, was especially hard hit by the late October super storm. And in this small community about 1,200 homes and businesses were “severely impacted,” she said.
A month after the storm about 80 percent of the borough’s businesses remain closed, she said. Compounding the anxiety, Cefalo-Braswell noted, is that many of those businesses – especially the area restaurants – had Highlands residents as employees and find they themselves unemployed.
“I hope people think about that and think twice before shopping online,” she said.
Encouraging people to shop locally, whether here or in any of the other affected areas, may be one of the most important salves as the wounds from the storm heal. “It’s the only way we can rebuild,” she expected.
Atlantic Highlands did not experience the same level of damage that neighboring Highlands did, said Leia Sims, a board member of the Atlantic Highlands Chamber of Commerce, but no electricity for two weeks certainly took its toll on local merchants as they continue to try and rebound.
“I’m sure some people are hesitant to come back” and are “wondering what condition the town is in.
“It’s been a tough time,” for local businesses, not only post-Sandy, but because of the overall economy, Sims said.
“But there is some positivity in the air,” she said. The chamber has been doing a cooperative advertising program, getting businesses’ message out to the town and businesses owners have been encouraged, she said.
You have to be optimistic, she said. “It’s either that or fold up shop and people aren’t ready to do that.”
Brian George owns and operates Northshore menswear, which had been operating in Sea Bright until the storm. It has temporarily relocated to 45 West River Road, Rumson. He is optimistic about the future. What’s keeping him going is “a lot of loyal customers,” who he expects will shop at his new location.
“We’re not just a store; we’re part of the community,” he said.
Shopping local is not just about keeping that particular merchant going, he said. It’s more than that. It’s about community.
“When you lose the local business people from the community, the community loses,” he said.
Main Street New Jersey is a state community revitalization program operated by the state Department of Community Affairs. Jef Buehler, its coordinator, said many communities have been adopting innovative ways to encourage shopping local and for good reason.
Studies have indicated that 73 percent of money spent shopping local is kept in the local economy, creating jobs and helping the overall community, Buehler said.
“Our concept is, shop local … recover local,” he said.
Red Bank didn’t experience the same damage as Sea Bright and elsewhere, but like Atlantic Highlands, much of it was without electricity for about two weeks.
As businesses try to rebound, customers need to be reminded of that as they consider their holiday purchasing, said Nancy Adams, executive director of Red Bank RiverCenter, which manages the special improvement district.
Many business owners are not part of large corporations; they are the people who sweep their sidewalks every day, and could be neighbors and friends.
“There’s still an economic reality and they have to survive and be strong,” Adams said.