FAIR HAVEN — Michel Berger, president of the Fair Haven Business Association, is worried.
“I really don’t want to see any businesses leave Fair Haven,” he said this week. “I would take it personally.”
What has Berger concerned is information he has been receiving indicating that the borough’s local business district, primarily its retail businesses, have been having a difficult time of it, with the just past holiday season being especially lackluster for a number of local merchants.
Berger said he has even spoken to two local retailers who have said they are considering relocated because of the lack of activity.
“That’s why I feel there is such an urgency,” he said on Wednesday afternoon.
Berger had forwarded an e-mail survey to his members asking them for their impressions on business and what could possibly be done to address it.
The association was scheduled to hold a meeting on Wednesday evening, where Berger and members planned to discuss this and possible solutions, he said.
The business association has approximately 72 members, which is divided mostly between various service industry members and the traditional bricks and mortar-style retail locations.
While the service businesses remain constant, it is the retailers that are of concern to Berger and the association, he said. Those businesses have seen on average a drop in sales of about 10 percent from last year.
“Obviously, this district is not alone,” he acknowledged, as retailers face the challenges of a still anemic economy and increasing competition from Internet merchants.
As a small district, the association cannot afford a large advertising budget, so it is hoping to encourage more loyalty from local residents and municipal employees, Berger said.
“I think the biggest challenge the Fair Haven business district has is to how to keep attracting the local residents to do their shopping in town,” he said.
Some possible ideas likely to come up at Wednesday’s meeting is to have a loyalty card for locals or “some sort of incentive,” and possibly other events to highlight local merchants which could include residents.
In the past, the association had worked with the local PTA on a program that allowed students’ parents to purchase “stimulus checks,” sort of like gift cards for parents to present to their children’s teachers for the holidays or other occasions, which could be redeemed at local businesses. “That has been a surprisingly big success,” he said.
“We cannot afford to lose businesses in our business district,” he warned, noting there are businesses that have been operating for decades and are very much part of the community fabric.
One business that is very much part of the community is River Road Books, 759 River Road, which has been there for about three decades.
But that retail location is not one Berger has to worry about, as it saw a pretty strong holiday sales season.
According to Karen Rumage, one of the current owners who have been operating it for nearly six years, “We do feel we have a lot of loyal customers.”
“It’s a conscious effort sometimes to support us,” Rumage explained, “but they’re willing to make that effort.”