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BCDC Aiding A Small Business Corridor

Halsey Street home to many local merchants

With Prudential’s planned $444 million Broad Street skyscraper, as well as many other redevelopment plans, Newark’s hopes for widespread corporate investment and development is gaining momentum. But there exists a quieter reinvestment trend along one of Newark’s historic commercial corridors — with small businesses hoping to profit from the influx of incoming professionals and discretionary dollars.

Running parallel with Broad Street is Halsey Street, Newark’s once-vaunted commercial corridor with addresses that included Bamberger’s and Hahne & Co. This area – blighted for years – is resurging as a mark for independently owned eateries, hair stylists, print shops, professional offices and boutiques.

These businesses, while battling the headwinds of a down economy, see themselves as the forebears of a new Halsey Street, one that is bolstered by planned redevelopment, rather than dependent on light walk-in traffic. They are receiving support from Brick City Development Corp. (BCDC) – the city’s non-profit redevelopment arm – in the form of loans, counseling and networking opportunities.

“BCDC is working to identify vacant spaces for unique retail boutiques, spas, salons, restaurants and other small businesses on this north end of Halsey Street,” said Lyneir Richardson, CEO of BCDC.

The BCDC, as well as local merchants, see enormous potential as an increasing number of nearby college students are visiting Halsey Street. There are also plans in the works for the former Hahne & Co. site, as well as construction of more market-rate housing.

“The hope is that this district is going to be similar to what you have in Greenwich Village, only it will reflect our community and the needs of the people who live, work, and shop here,” said Peter Learmont, owner of Porta-Print Publishing, Inc. at 33 Halsey Street.

“These small businesses that have opened up over the last few years are making that first effort of investment,” he said. “All this new development will hopefully bring in the additional foot traffic needed to help support these businesses that have made the initial investment and help us all succeed.”

Unlike some of his new retail neighbors, Learmont has proudly run his shop for 30 years—17 of which have been on Halsey Street.

“It’s changed a lot and we’ve seen positive activity over the last few years,” he said. “This new development will continue that trend.”

There are ongoing economic realities, however, that keep enthusiasm guarded. Omar Townes, who opened the Cut Creators barbershop at 47 Halsey Street in 2010, said notes business has been good. But he doesn’t take anything for granted when he considers an economy that has been particularly hard on Newark.

That said, Townes said new investment would provide new opportunities for his business that relies heavily on walk-in customers. “It’s definitely going to make a change for my business — I’m actually looking forward to this building opening up,” he said.

Linda Jumah, owner of the clothier Luxe Boutique just a few doors down at 83 Halsey Street, also relies on foot traffic, mostly during their lunch hour or after work. “People in the area are definitely excited about businesses like this coming to Halsey Street because they don’t necessarily have to leave the city to find a place to shop for something to wear,” she said.

While no formal merchants association exists on Halsey, several shop owners expressed interest in ratifying a cooperative spirit that’s taken hold over recent years. “We all try to feed off each other,” Jumah said, adding she’s always trying to send business over to her neighbors: “If I have a customer who is looking for something to eat, I’ll tell them to go by Harvest Table. Or if they’re looking for a good hair salon I’ll send them over to Cut Creators. I know they will be treated right.”

Jumah is hopeful any new investment will spur additional economic activity along Halsey Street. It is an ideal way for new daytime visitors to explore the neighborhood and get to know surrounding merchants.

Jumah’s vision for Halsey Street doesn’t stop on her short block. The street, once such a shopping mecca, doesn’t need another huge department store to thrive. Instead she said, there needs to be a growing collection of eclectic businesses that are unique to Newark.

“I just hope that this area grows and is a destination for people visiting the city. If you’re at the Prudential Center — the arena — you might stop by the Halsey district because we have great restaurants and great shopping,” she said. “If we get that type of attention, it will bring an energy that will help this entire street.”

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