Business Anniversaries in the Borough: Part I
As Collingswood wishes a happy birthday to four of its local (non-restaurant) businesses this month, Patch considers the successes and challenges that comprise their stories.
There must be something about that fall air, because October seems to be the anniversary month for Collingswood businesses.
No fewer than four local establishments celebrated another year of operating in the borough this month—All Fired Up, Verde Salon, CAM-Tech Computers and The Candy Jar—and more than a few will join their numbers next year, including Vitality Fitness Too, The American Table, and Collingswood Health Recovery.
“I think the economy is on the comeback, and we’ve been primed,” said Mayor James Maley, who helped All Fired Up celebrate its 15th year of business by reading The Monster at the End of This Book to children in the store Wednesday morning.
"We may have to notify Guinness,” he joked.
You don’t know how good you’ve got it
Even though her store has been open less than half as long as Arts Plus—only five of which years have been spent in the borough—Kim Raiguel said Collingswood is the place that All Fired Up finally found the spotlight it deserved.
“Being in Collingswood just really got us noticed a lot more,” Raiguel said.
Back in 2007, her paint-and-take ceramics business had outgrown its second Haddonfield location, and Raiguel needed to find a new space. She reached out to the business coordinators of both Haddonfield and Collingswood for help.
One responded. The other didn’t.
“Collingswood courted us,” Raiguel said. “[In Haddonfield], even though their wives and kids came to paint there, the landlords there didn’t see us being a viable business. We talked about larger spots on the avenue and they wanted to hide us in a corner.”
In Collingswood, she said, All Fired Up has become a destination business, drawing clients from as far away as Woodstown, Chestnut Hill, even McGuire Air Force Base. Word-of-mouth, drive-by and walk-up traffic have become such revenue drivers that Raiguel practically does no advertising outside of her 10,000-subscriber email list.
What also helps, she said, is the supportive local business environment of Collingswood, in which cross-promotional efforts are de rigueur and you can get the ear of a civic leader when it’s needed.
“Collingswood does a lot for its businesses,” Raiguel said. “Coming from Haddonfield, where they didn’t really do much for you...just being able to talk to the mayor or the BID (Business Improvement District) and having needs and having people try to help you with those needs, it makes a huge difference.
“The people who only opened here and only know Collingswood…don’t even realize how good they’ve got it here,” she said. “They don’t realize how it’s not that way other places.”
Strong roots with room to grow
After only five years in the borough, Verde Salon owner Kevin Gatto believes he’s sitting on a multimillion-dollar business.
“We’re only at 35 percent capacity right now in terms of what we can do,” Gatto said. “With a lot of hard work, this could be a $3-million-a-year salon. That’s where the path is headed.”
If that sounds like an optimistic projection for an owner who set up his shingle on Powell Lane in the most demonized property in the borough—the LumberYard—Gatto is unfazed.
In fact, he said, he bought the space instead of renting because he believes in the strength of the community and foresees additional growth to come when the project is completed with rental units.
“It’s a great demographic, and generally speaking, in this economy, renters have more disposable income,” Gatto said. “It’s going to [cost] less than living in the city, and with the Speedline there…progress is good.”
Gatto says “the appeal of Collingswood,” especially its restaurant base, has been great for his business, creating a “chic appeal to this once-sleepy little town.” In fact, he credits Bistro di Marino owner Jimmy Marino as one of his first influences in signing on to the space.
“I mentioned to Jimmy that I’m opening up a salon, and he said ‘Check out the LumberYard,’” Gatto said. “My original business partner and I came here and checked it out and stopped looking anywhere else.
Gatto said Marino “represented the future of other business owners who should be coming into town.
“I think we’ve seen the phase-out of people who don’t get it, and he was one of the first who actually did,” Gatto said.
Click here for Part II of our story, in which we speak with The Candy Jar owner Laurie Cohen and Chris Baille of CAM-Tech Computers about the challenges of starting over—or simply staying put—in a down economy.