Business Anniversaries in the Borough: Part II
In Part I of this feature, Patch talked to two Collingswood businesses that are poised for growth; Part II focuses on a pair of shops that are trying to weather a dry spell.
October is a busy month in the borough, with at least four businesses sharing anniversaries. This is Part II of a feature that presents a seasonal snapshot of the local economy. To read Part I, click here.
Philadelphia native Laurie Cohen, owner of The Candy Jar, came to Collingswood for the first time in 2002.
Her son brought her out to May Fair, where she saw a “For Rent” sign in the window of a storefront on Haddon Avenue. Cohen, who had been making candy out of her home, took one look and recognized an opportunity.
“It was a lark,” she said, “just getting the guts” to write a number down and call the landlord. But Cohen worked it out, and for seven-and-a-half years, she treated Collingswood’s sweet tooth before retiring to Florida.
Although Cohen was very happy in Florida, she got a call—and a calling—to return to the area in 2011. Her daughter was about to deliver a second child. The owners to whom she’d sold The Candy Jar had shuttered the operation. And Cohen, a devout Christian, began to see providence in the synchronicity of these events.
“I think God purposely put me here,” she said. “This felt right. And as soon as I got the store, I moved back to Philly and two doors away from where I [had] lived a house opened up.”
The move back was fulfilling on many levels, Cohen said—she loved seeing familiar faces, loved spending time with her children and grandchildren, and loved the feeling of connection that the borough gave her with everyone in it.
“I love seeing the people I know,” she said. “It feels like they’re family even if they’re not. I feel like I’m everybody’s aunt.”
But the first year back in the borough has also been much more challenging as well. Things are much harder the second time around. Although Cohen said she would “love to be like Mrs. Fields, with a chain of stores,” the future is unclear.
“Not only am I older but all my customers don’t know I’m there,” she said.
In the event that her second act in Collingswood is briefer than the first, Cohen intends to make an impact.
She stuffs her guests full of sweets whenever they walk in the front door. She always tries to find an excuse to take a plate of goodies over to the seniors at the Collingswood Arms. And the rear of her store overflows with canned goods and new clothes she’s collected for homeless shelters.
“I have a purpose,” Cohen said. “If I only help one person, that’s one more than somebody else helped.
“I’m not here for candy,” she says; “I know that. Anybody can have a candy shop, but that’s not what God has for me.”
‘Hoping the economy bounces back’
Chris Baille of CAM-Tech Computers is far less fatalistic about his assessment of the future of his computer service and repair business. After nearly a decade of operating in the borough, he just wishes that more people would know he’s there.
“We’ve been open eight years and I still have people walk by and say, ‘I don’t know you’re here,’” Baille said.
Baille said that CAM-Tech relies on “very good word-of-mouth” business, and that he has made a lot of good friends from its customer base.
"There’s always people around there who are going to want computer help," Baille said. “We try to keep everybody happy.”
But although most days are relaxing, enjoyable, and fun, Baille said, the down economy means that he’s not doing as much business as he used to.
“Mainly we’re just hoping the economy bounces back after the election and everybody starts doing better,” he said. “We have a couple service contracts that keep us busy; we could always use more, but again I run a little lighter crew.
“What’s keeping me here is I don’t want to go back to work for somebody else,” Baille said.
Looking elsewhere for the cavalry
Both Baille and Cohen say that they love Collingswood and the people in it, but feel like they need more support from borough residents to stay afloat. Mayor James Maley doesn’t see it that way.
“We had all those discussions ages ago with the business district,” said Maley, who contends that most “shop local” initiatives feel like “guilt marketing.
“The folks in town support, but all of these businesses would not survive if they were reliant on Collingswood residents only,” Maley said.
Maley argued that if every Collingswood business drew the majority of its customers from within borough limits, that would pose a simple numbers problem.
“We only have 4,000 households,” he said. “If the shop keeps know the names of all these people from town, they won’t survive. It’s not a negative thing.”
People that live in town support these businesses “just as much,” as outsiders, he said, “but it certainly is not the majority, and you don’t want it to be.”
Baille is hopeful that another few service contracts will pop up; Cohen, that her old customers return. Each is waiting for an sign that the community is as invested in their longevity as they are.
"I hate to see businesses close in town," Baille said. "I hope everybody can stay around for a long time."