Local Businesses Struggle as COVID-19 Emergency Continues

As the COVID-19 virus has caused an international pandemic, the states of New Jersey and New York are currently at the epicenter of the crisis within the United States. To slow the transmission of the virus and help save lives, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed Executive Order 107 which required New Jersey residents to “stay at home,” and also suspended all non-essential business activities.

As expected, many small local businesses will suffer more than large national and international corporations, and some may not survive the crisis.

True Value Hardware in Swedesboro is currently owned by Woodbury resident Frank Bridges, who has been working at the store in some capacity since 1985.

True Value, located on Auburn Avenue, has been deemed an essential business, their doors remain open, and regular hours have continued. Customers can stop in or call for curbside pickup or delivery.

Bridges reported that the store has been fortunate to be essential to the local community and therefore has not had to release any employees from their jobs.

When asked how residents can help local businesses through this crisis, Bridges hopes his advice is heeded, both in lean times and prosperous ones.

“The Community can help us and any small business by staying local ALL the time. These are the ones that, year-round, donate to charitable causes, sponsor athletic teams, and strive to develop good relationships with the local community,” said Bridges.

“Small businesses [that remain open] need to be strong and safe,” added Bridges. “We stay strong by working hard and coming to work with a positive attitude, to gather the items people need, and proceed with their lives as ‘normal’ as possible.”

“And we are safe,” he concluded, “in the sense of operating and maintaining the highest level of safety we can for our employees and customers.”

Another local business that has been deemed essential and able to continue operating is Haines Pork Shop, a retail butcher on Kings Highway in Mickleton.

Haines Pork Shop in Mickelton also remains open but is asking for customers to call ahead to place orders and to practice required safety measures when visiting the shop.

Although business has picked up since the crisis started, owner Harry Sheldon is concerned about keeping products in stock, as deliveries do not always contain everything that’s been ordered.

But Sheldon stresses that he feels fortunate to still be able to offer products to his customers, and appreciates the support the community offers to his small family-run businesses.

Botto’s Italian Line Restaurant on Kings Highway in downtown Swedesboro had to close its doors on March 16, although the market still remains open. Co-owner Robert Botto offers details. “We are very upset that we had to lay off some of our staff, including management, servers, bartenders, bussers, and a few of the kitchen staff.”

“We are fortunate that our market is allowed to remain open, so we were able to employ some of our kitchen staff,” he continued. “We are offering both our restaurant and market takeout menus through the market.”

“The market has been fully stocked with perishables because of the long-standing loyalty we have with our suppliers,” Botto confirmed. “And we are offering curbside pickup and free delivery within an eight-mile radius.”

Robert Botto would also like to relay that his family and their business generously offers to assist any needy families during this crisis.

Blueplate Restaurant, located on Main Street in Mullica Hill, is also providing takeout service. Jim Malaby, chef-owner of Blueplate, explains how the restaurant has been affected by the shutdown.

“Being in business as a restaurant, this virus has flipped business upside down. Currently we are still operating, but with major reduction in our front of the house staff which are the face of the business.”

“We have moved from a sit-down business with a small percentage of food to go, to 100% food to go. Revenue as like many restaurants across America has dropped tremendously,” Malaby continued.

Like Botto’s, loss of revenue at Blueplate does not stop the business from making adjustments and helping others during the crisis.

“We have been part of the community for years so we learn to change as situations change,” said Malaby. “We have started offering more family-style meals to help parents deal while everyone is in quarantine.”

“We have also worked with local groups that have helped out feeding the needy and also the medical field as they fight on the front lines,” Malaby added.

Bill Cabana of Long Lane Home Services in Swedesboro wants the community to know that home appliance services are still available, even during this trying time. The company has been servicing our area for four generations with heating, air conditioning, plumbing and appliances services.

“Many home owners feel captive and that home service is impossible, but we are taking every precaution to keep everyone safe, and still servicing all who are in need. Never have people been so appreciative of the services we are supplying,” said Cabana.

Another business that has had to make major adjustments to operations is Spirit Auto Center on Kings Highway in Swedesboro.

The dealership, in its 29th year, can no longer operate out of the lot or showroom.

Ron Baus, Dealer Principal of Spirit and resident of East Greenwich, reported the sad outcome.

“This unfortunately forced us to lay off my sales staff, Business Development Center (BDC) staff, managers related to the sales department, and some clerical staff.”

With this dramatic change, Baus reported that one area continues to operate as normal. “Our service and parts [department] are open for repair, warranty, and manufacturer recall work.”

Baus also said that the business is allowed to retail vehicles online, and explained how that happens. “You can submit your information online, and sign the paperwork curbside or in our service area, or, we can deliver to your home and have paperwork signed outside.”

But Baus stressed that this option should be utilized only if necessary. “I would like to point out, that if you really NEED a vehicle, we are here to facilitate that transaction, otherwise, please wait until our showroom is open again. We can’t stress enough about your safety and ours to maintain social distancing during this time.”

When asked how his business is keeping positive during this time of crisis, Baus had good advice for other business owners.

“Let your staff see and know you’re there for them. Our employees are our greatest asset and they need to know that this time will pass.”

“These are unchartered times we are living in. Each day is faced with either a victory or set-back. Your attitude affects your altitude, that’s why it is so important to have a positive outlook on things,” Baus continued.

Baus and the people at Spirit spread this positive outlook to the community by teaming up with K-Artocin Photography and 1st Place Vinyl and driving the Easter Bunny around local neighborhoods.

Because of the nature of certain other businesses, some have had to completely move their services online.

The Hip Hop Shop on Kings Highway in Swedesboro has had to cancel all birthday parties and in-person fitness and dance classes, but has been working to move as much as possible to an online environment.

Owner Jenn Romano-Baus said that community members can pay the one-time monthly fee of $20 per household for online classes, which goes directly to the instructors and staff.

Romano-Baus reported that she is trying hard to keep the business afloat, and can’t survive without community help. 

She also offers sound advice for other small businesses and residents. “Mental health is important. Surround yourself with positive support. Try and stay active with yoga, fitness class, kid’s classes, do it together with the family!”

Jazz Hands Dance Academy in Clarksboro has also transitioned all of its classes to an online environment. Owner and head dance teacher Christine Hand Campbell explained the opportunities and challenges she’s faced during this crisis and what other business owners can do.

“This has not been a time of rest and relaxation for Jazz Hands Dance Academy. We have been working long hours, learning new technology, and building a whole new business model to make this work. Think outside the box and be creative!”

New Moon Hot Yoga in Clarksboro also offers online classes, including a discounted 10-class “Immune-Boosting” package that will be available until they reopen their doors.

Owner Suzanne Zimmer, resident of South Harrison Township, said the studio also offers one free class a week as a way to extend services to those who may need it at this time.

“The mind-body practice of yoga is so helpful for coping with stress and improving overall health and well-being which is so important right now,” said Zimmer.

George Murphy is co-owner of D-Signed for You on Main Street in Mullica Hill. The business makes and sells signs, holds DIY craft classes and workshops, hosts birthday parties, and restores furniture.

Since the shutdown, Murphy reported that he and his wife, co-owner Danielle Walls, have brainstormed to adapt to the environment by delivering party packages and activity kits to homes, with porch drop off and online payments.

To help the community during this time of crisis, D-Signed for You has also teamed up with other local businesses to put together and deliver free birthday kits for local children.

Murphy is also vice president of the Mullica Hill Business Association and reported that the organization is now helping businesses regardless of membership. He noted that communications were sent out to local businesses to see who is operating and to find out what the association can do to help.

While many products and services have been deemed essential or offered remotely or online, for some, these options are impossible.

Arthur Weiner is the general manager of the Lit Cigar Lounge on Auburn Avenue in Swedesboro and has been in business for five years.

“We are not open and no revenues have come in,” reported Weiner. “I believe that the community which has supported us for all these years would like to continue to smoke their cigars.”

Weiner believes that cigars can be a stress reliever for the smoker, and is offering curbside pickup to his customers. “The community can support us during this crisis by calling ahead with an order and I will bring it out to your car,” he confirmed.

In the Village Salon and Day Spa, with two area locations, is another business that has had to cease total operations, due to the close nature of client-to-employee contact.

In the Village Salon and Spa, with locations in Mullica Hill and Woolwich, sits empty of customers. Shown here are the brand-new pedicure machines that staff look forward to using when the salons can re-open.

June Giumarello, salon co-owner and resident of Mullica Hill, explained the effect. “Since our business is mainly a service industry we do not have any employees working at the moment. We do plan on bringing back our entire staff once we reopen.”

“The community can help us by staying engaged on our social media and by making online gift certificate purchases.”

Support the businesses mentioned in this article and all local businesses!

True Value Hardware: https://stores.truevalue.com/nj/swedesboro/19388/ or 856-467-2472

Haines Pork Shop: call ahead to order: 856-423-1192

Botto’s Italian Line restaurant and market: Bottos.com or 856-467-1733

Spirit Auto: 856-467-2200 or spiritcdjr.com

By Colleen Woods-Esposito

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Swedesboro NJ
January 27, 2023, 10:39 am
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