Shoppers walking down Haddon Avenue in December are treated to twinkling lights and holiday music played over the public address system.
Visitors and residents can spend Collingswood Cash—offered once a year at a discount—or show up at monthly Second Saturday events to enjoy live entertainment and sales.
Collingswood Partners, the nonprofit corporation funded in part by a business tax, makes all of these events possible. These kind of projects have helped contribute to a Collingswood renaissance, and the borough's reputation as a quintessential American downtown.
But in the midst of promoting business growth in town, Collingswood Partners also has been operating in the red, thanks to a $500,000 loan taken out in 2005 to redevelop the LumberYard property.
Click here to read Patch's earlier story about the LumberYard loan.
Taking out the loan helped Collingswood businesses, because the LumberYard—a mix of condos and retail space—brought new residents to town, created new storefronts, and transformed an eyesore, said John Kane, the borough’s former director of community development. (Collingswood Partners Director Terry Seeley deferred comments on Collingswood Partners to Kane.)
Plus, Collingswood Borough is the entity actually making loan payments, so while debt is on the books of Collingswood Partners, local government pays for it—meaning it’s local taxpayers’ responsibility.
But whether businesses embrace Kane’s belief may depend largely on where those businesses are located in Collingswood.
Collingswood Partners oversees the borough’s three business improvement districts (BID)—Haddon Avenue; the Collings Avenue Theatre District; and Route 130. Of these, Haddon Avenue the biggest district by far, with the largest number of businesses and the most visitors.
And according to one Collings Avenue business owner, Haddon Avenue also gets all of the attention. This owner requested anonymity, out of fear of repercussions for speaking out against borough operations and officials.
“The world thinks Collingswood begins and ends on Haddon Avenue,” the owner said. “We pay into the BID, and Collingswood Partners too, but we don’t get the same level of service down here (on Collings Avenue).”
The owner’s complaints ranged from the tangible—only a few trees dressed in holiday lights this year, compared to the glow of lights on every tree along Haddon Avenue—to broader gripes, like feeling as though only Haddon Avenue businesses are discussed during Collingswood Partners meetings, and that the other two business districts get little attention.
What benefits one part of Collingswood benefits all, Mayor James Maley countered.
“Probably the (BID) area that is the least-served is the Route 130 district. Though I can’t say we put money into it, even there, a big chunk of our BID advertising—called image advertising, which advertises all of Collingswood—definitely helps them, for their property values, for creating a Collingswood identity at their address,” he said. “On the west side (the Collings Avenue Theatre District), we do decorations, planting, lights; they get banners. But there aren’t very many stores down there. Downtown is where most businesses are.”
The Collings Avenue owner said this way of thinking is typical, and the LumberYard loan is yet another example of how Haddon Avenue is favored. The project does nothing to bring shoppers to Collings Avenue, the owner said, and therefore doesn’t benefit the entire business community.
Sandra Fortuna, who owns Universal Dance Center on Route 130, agrees that non-Haddon Avenue businesses don’t get as much support or attention, or benefit from, Collingswood Partners.
“We pay the tax too, so it would be nice to have the full advantages of that,” said Fortuna.
But Fortuna is quick to assume part of the responsibility.
“The Main Street business area should be concentrated on; it’s where the majority of the businesses are,” Fortuna said. “I’m bordered on two sides of my building by Camden; there’s just no way I could be included in downtown events the way businesses over there are.”
Fortuna said she’s made some attempts to get involved in Collingswood Partners, but stopped trying after she didn’t see a payoff.
“It’s not their fault; it’s my fault,” she said.
In business here for nearly 20 years, Fortuna said she loves Collingswood and operating a business here. But, she added, most of her clientele aren’t borough residents. Like the Collings Avenue business owner, Fortuna said the LumberYard project doesn’t attract more people to her business.
Meanwhile, Haddon Avenue business owner Steven Kreh is a new kid on the block. Gourmet Popcorn Creations, Kreh's business, opened in March and sits just a few blocks from the LumberYard.
“I haven’t really followed the LumberYard project much, since it was (already) so far along when we came to town,” Kreh said. “I don’t get the sense that a lot of people come from there to shop over here, but it’s hard to tell.”
Kreh said his focus is not on Collingswood Partners or on the LumberYard loan, but in creating a successful business on Haddon Avenue. Kreh gets involved in townwide events, like May Fair and the Parade of Lights, and promotes his business as much as possible at special events.
And that’s what businesses should be doing, said Kane of Collingswood Partners.
“It’s not our job to bring people into specific businesses,” said Kane. “Collingswood Partners works to bring people into Collingswood. It’s up to business owners to get them through the door.”
(Associate Regional Editor Lauren Burgoon and Regional Editor Tim Zatzariny Jr. contributed to this report.)