Collingswood Mayor James Maley is just hoping, after all these years, that he gets to learn how to do the Bristol Stomp.
After being invited to speak in the Philadelphia suburb, Maley, a native of the Greater Northeast, says it would be a nice treat to finally figure out the dance steps to the Dovells' 1961 hit single.
But he’ll settle for any opportunity to tell “The Collingswood Story.”
“Part of this job is telling Collingswood 24-7, and going out and talking the talk leaves great feelings and thoughts out there,” Maley said. “It’s just good that way. We get to go meet new people.”
Maley will be the featured guest at an Oct. 9 wine-and-cheese reception hosted by the Bristol Borough Economic Development Initiative, reported Bucks Local News on Monday.
The topic? How the lessons of Collingswood may hold the key to Bristol's own economic redevelopment. The towns seem comparably sized, with similar selling points—mass transit access, a nucleus of restaurants, a slate of outdoor events—that make for some interesting parallels, the News reports.
“Once down and nearly out, Collingswood’s leaders, including Maley, shook the money trees and developers rained down, mostly in the form of restaurants and other businesses that helped rebuild and revitalize the shopping district,” the story says.
Maley deflects a great deal of such praise; this isn’t the first of these talks he’s given, and it’s not even the only one on the immediate docket. But "The Collingswood Story," he says, is a tale of suburban renewal that municipal leaders from Wildwood to Morristown ask to hear again and again, like a favorite fairy tale, parsing the details for magic recipes to rejuvenate their own communities.
“A lot of times I open by saying, ‘You presume we knew what we were doing,’” Maley says. “A lot of people invite us up to tell them how to do it, which is impossible. Most towns, they hear a different idea or two. What I always say is it’s a group effort.”
There’s no one answer to anyone’s problems, Maley says, just as there’s no template from which Collingswood was cut. It took the talents and energies of a variety of motivated individuals to re-cast the pillars of the borough’s success, from community theater to recreation and neighborhood preservation programs. A lot of the hard work involved providing the opportunities for the people who wanted to reshape the community to get their hands dirty.
And by no means, he says, should any leader expect the rebuilding process to be speedy or unanimous.
“There will be differing viewpoints,” Maley says. “Some people will yell at you a lot. If you do what you believe is right, that’s the best you can do. You want to include and involve as many different people as you can in as many different facets as you can.”
Some of the things that contribute to the success of the town are a combination of self-promotion and dumb luck, Maley says. But by telling The Story, the legend of Collingswood grows, which builds up a self-perpetuating momentum. Other accolades the borough has been awarded are a result of accidental networking.
“It just expands the network to give good vibes about towns,” he says. “Some folks I speak to in Bristol will come [have] dinner in Collingswood [restaurants].
At the core of every talk, Maley says, there are two elementary messages: always bet on the home team, and growth requires change.
“I think our strategies have been to invest in yourself,” Maley says. “A lot of times towns get frozen doing things and they need to take into account the cost of not doing anything.”
And hey, if it doesn’t work out, the advice is free.
“I never take anything for [giving a talk],” Maley says.
But he might be amenable to a few dance lessons.
Ask the mayor and Borough Commissioners about The Collingswood Story or anything else that’s on your mind at tonight’s quarterly Town Forum, which will be held at the Scottish Rite ballroom from 7 to 9 p.m.