Ann Garwig

Jef Buehler

Lawrenceville School

Corrections or additions?

Raising the Flag for Main Street, USA

This article by Tricia Fagan was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on

February 17, 1999. All rights reserved.

For most of us growing up in New Jersey before the

1970s a highlight of the week was the inevitable weekend shopping

trip along the Main Street of the nearest city or town. For our family

it was Rahway’s Cherry Street that beckoned with its wonderful quirky

mix of family-owned hardware stores, stationery shops, department

stores, butchers, bakers, milliners, and the requisite ice cream shop.

Variety wasn’t the only attraction: there was a neighborliness and

sense of community that added to the experience. The Stride Rite shoe

salesman always remembered the vagaries of our growing feet. The woman

at the massive two-level sewing notions store enjoyed introducing

my sisters and me to the latest exotic fabric selections.

As increasing numbers of businesses and residents moved away, however,

main streets throughout the country came more and more to resemble

ghost towns rather than thriving town centers. The gradual erosion

of these downtown commercial districts was viewed by many communities

as an unfortunate but inevitable reality.

Even small village centers like Lawrenceville began to feel the pinch

as competition from super-stores and highway shopping malls drew

shoppers

from the village stores. For many area residents the closing of

Bentley’s

Market, a long-time grocery, in the 1980s symbolized the slow decline

of their main street. Subsequent losses, including the hardware shop

and the Jigger Shop, the popular general store that was destroyed

in a fire, followed. Boarded-up buildings began to dot the tiny

historic

village as businesses moved out and fewer residents patronized the

remaining businesses.

Some Lawrenceville residents, however, refused to accept the decline

of their beloved historic village. Resolved to fight back, they began

talking about and researching the problem late in 1995. The volunteer

Village of Lawrenceville Main Street Project (MSP), initially

incorporated

in 1996 as the Lawrence Heritage Association, quickly grew through

one-to-one outreach, public speaking, and word of mouth. A part-time

consultant was soon brought in to help coordinate MSP efforts, and

in 1997 a full time coordinator was hired, but the program continues

to be volunteer-driven — and what a powerhouse group it has turned

out to be!

In three short years, the efforts of this dedicated citizen

organization

have yielded results that even the most successful professional

planner

would want to brag about. A master site plan for the village has been

completed. An historic building inventory and pictorial directory

of the village has been compiled, as well as a user friendly village

business directory. MSP also helped to secure a 25 mile per hour speed

limit in the Lawrenceville School zone along Route 206, and

MSP’s design committee secured a new sign ordinance for the village.

Citizen committees maintain attractive planters along Main Street,

and decorate the village for various holidays.

Since January, 1996, nine new businesses have been located in the

village. These include Classy Clippers pet supplies and groomers,

Maidenhead Bagel, Village Traditions gift shop, Vidalia Restaurant,

Marrazzo’s Gourmet Marketplace (formerly Centre Fruit Gourmet),

Essence

Dental Studio, and Main Street Frame Shop. The two most recent

additions,

Fedora Cafe and Edward Jones Investments, are in a new building

constructed

and owned by V.J. Scozzari and Sons. The building, at 2633 Main

Street,

is on the site of the old Bentley’s Market.

Fedora Cafe, owned and operated by Bryan Brodowski, who is also chef

and owner of Acacia, opened in January. Edward D. Jones Inc. joined

Fedora at 2633 Main Street earlier this month.

Top Of Page
Ann Garwig

Ann Garwig, full time project manager of Lawrenceville’s

MSP, tries to explain the history and motivation for this dramatic

success story. Sitting in MSP’s attractive offices on Phillips Avenue

just off of Route 206, she talks about the tremendous work the project

has accomplished to date. Garwig, a Mount Holyoke alumna, received

an MBA in 1989 from Rider. She came to the project as a part-time

consultant in 1997, bringing with her extensive experience in fund

development and a deep affection for the village’s downtown area.

Garwig first came to Lawrenceville as a child in the 1960s to visit

her brother who was a student at Lawrenceville School, and moved here

almost 17 years ago. "I just love this town. It reminds me so

much of the town in upstate New York where I grew up. It had that

same intimate, friendly feeling. That feeling was still there for

the most part when I moved back here almost 17 years ago, although

that had really changed in recent years."

Garwig emphasizes that from the beginning, this was a community-based,

citizen-driven process. "There were a lot of wonderful people

involved in getting this project going at the very beginning. Will

and Jane Dickey were certainly two of the major founders of the Main

Street Lawrenceville program. Will is on the faculty and Jane is on

the administrative staff of Lawrenceville School. Will was the

founding

father, really, of this initiative, and still remains active on our

board."

Garwig notes that the number of academics involved at the very

beginning

of project, many from the Lawrenceville School, offered a great

advantage

to the start up of MSP. "From the start, they thoroughly

researched

what could be done, and learned about the Main Street New Jersey

Program,

learned about the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the

National Main Street model. They gathered all these various types

of information and went out to meet with people in Merchantville,

already a designated Main Street New Jersey community to see what

they were doing. They really thoroughly, thoroughly studied the

situation

in Lawrenceville and the possible solutions. And they decided to

operate,

from the beginning, using the four points of the Main Street Approach:

organization, promotion, design, and economic restructuring."

In July, 1997, Lawrenceville was officially designated a Main Street

New Jersey community. Main Street New Jersey, a program of the New

Jersey Department of Community Affairs, has been operating in the

state since 1990. Approximately once every two years (the next round

will take place later this year), the program selects communities

from around the state to participate in a comprehensive downtown

revitalization

program. There are currently 16 designated Main Street New Jersey

communities located throughout the state, including Trenton’s South

Broad Street, the only urban Main Street initiative, and

Lawrenceville,

the other Mercer County municipality.

A municipality is eligible to apply if it meets three major criteria:

a year-round or seasonal population between 4,000 and 50,000,

commitment

to employ a full-time executive director with an adequate operating

budget for a minimum of three years, and historic architectural

resources

in a traditional downtown commercial area. Since the Main Street

approach

emphasizes the need for a broad base of local people and groups

working

together to improve a downtown, they also stress that funding for

local Main Street programs should come from both public and private

sector sources.

Garwig notes with some humor that probably the major concern raised

about the eligibility of Lawrenceville during the selection process

was the size of the community and the downtown (MSP encompasses the

three block section of Route 206 running from Craven Lane to Gordon

Avenue, and going back one block from Main Street to George and James

Streets.) With a village business district of only three blocks,

Lawrenceville’s

historic downtown main street is the smallest of the Main Street New

Jersey communities, and one of the smallest nationally.

Top Of Page
Jef Buehler

Jef Buehler, assistant state coordinator of Main Street New Jersey,

agrees that the village’s well-defined, geographically tight downtown

is unique, but adds that the member base of Lawrenceville’s MSP may

be an even more important factor in the Project’s success. "This

is truly a volunteer-driven initiative. Unlike other Main Street

programs

that may have been started up by local businesses and property owners,

80 percent of the volunteers participating in Lawrenceville’s Main

Street program are residents."

He notes that the program’s assessment last summer concluded that

"they have a very effective organization, a talented volunteer

base that truly understands and is truly committed to the goals of

the Main Street program. They’re also really dedicated to working

with the Main Street Program’s comprehensive, four point

approach."

The Main Street New Jersey Program is one of 41 state-based projects

which operate using the Main Street Approach first developed in 1977

by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The approach is a

grass-roots, comprehensive management philosophy designed to stimulate

the downtown’s economy and capitalize on a town’s unique image. It

is not a grant program, nor does it offer any big fixes. The approach,

which requires effective public and private partnerships and the use

of an involved, strong volunteer base, is designed to stimulate

incremental

growth and changes.

Buehler explains, "This process is designed for the long haul.

In most cases it took years for our downtowns to decline. We don’t

expect it will take equally long to revitalize a community’s main

street, but we know that it takes time to design and implement a

successful

downtown plan that will be self-sustaining."

Along with on-going support and assessment services from Main Street

New Jersey, participating communities can receive professional

assistance,

free of charge, in a variety of areas ranging from screening and

hiring

an executive director, to small business development and architectural

design.

New services are continually being made available through Main Street

New Jersey. Last fall, three businesses in the Lawrenceville Main

Street district (Lawrenceville Fuel Company, Marrazzo’s Gourmet

Marketplace, and Village Traditions) were selected to receive one

year of free small business development consultation from John

Ingersoll

of Retail Merchandising Service Automation, an international

consulting

service.

Buehler says that Main Street New Jersey just contracted with two

additional professionals to offer expanded opportunities to the local

Main Street programs. Margaret Westfield, an architect with expertise

in historic preservation, will offer expanded design services. These

could include free facade renderings, education of and consultation

with local Main Street design committees, and consultation with local

businesses and property owners to educate them about the historic

design potential in their own buildings. Marketing and public relation

services — including marketing and image analysis, implementation

of a marketing plan, and long-term PR planning — will be offered

by Janice Wilson Stridick, a marketing consultant.

Top Of Page
Lawrenceville School

Today, Lawrenceville’s MSP is thriving, and the results

are evident as you drive or walk through the three-block main street

district. The project is funded through contributions from a variety

of sources including Lawrence Township, residents, property owners,

and institutions including Lawrenceville School. In 1996 the group

had initiated a fund-raising drive that asked contributors to pledge

support for at least three years. By May, 1997, the project had

exceeded

its initial three-year goal of $100,000, with approximately one third

of the funding coming from Lawrence Township.

Although local residents make up the largest percentage of those

involved

in and volunteering for MSP, village business owners, local

institutions,

property owners, and Lawrence Township representatives are all

represented

in the initiative. Lawrenceville School, whose campus faces the

village

main street from across Route 206, is a major player. Garwig points

out that many of MSP’s original founders as well as many of the

current

active volunteers are on the faculty and administrative staff of the

School. She adds that the School’s involvement in the process is a

natural for other reasons as well. "For one thing, beyond their

own campus, Lawrenceville School is a major property owner in the

village’s downtown. For example, they own the building which houses

the MSP program, which they offer rent free. They have also made major

financial contributions, and have been consistently supportive of

the Project’s efforts and initiatives."

Although Garwig has a full plate coordinating the many MSP activities,

publishing the quarterly Main Street Press newsletter, managing the

office, and representing the organization, MSP is completely dependent

on its volunteers to sustain its many projects and to continue to

achieve its significant accomplishments. These volunteers work on

MSP committees that include economic restructuring, traffic & parking,

design, landscape, promotion, fundraising, volunteer, and the MSP

board of directors.

Perhaps some of MSP’s most visible projects have been developed and

carried off by the very creative promotion committee. In one year

they developed several innovative marketing initiatives including

"Main Street Dollars" which can be spent at any Village place

of business, the development of coupon books tailored to suit

different

promotions and events, and specialty retail promotions during various

holidays.

Three annual Village Picnics have drawn hundreds of families and

individuals

in to join in some hometown fun. Several "Newcomers’ Desserts"

have been offered to introduce new residents to the community. A new

celebration, the "Lawrenceville Jubilee," is scheduled as

a day-long special event to take place in the village on Saturday,

May 8. Tommie Culligan, MSP member and owner of Village Traditions,

is spear-heading plans for the Jubilee. Community awareness about

MSP initiatives is sustained through a frequently updated community

bulletin board, a bi-weekly column in the Lawrence Ledger, and

quarterly

issues of MSP’s informative "Main Street Press" newsletter.

At the end of his interview Buehler said, "Be sure to ask about

MSP’s `Pony Express.’ I won’t tell you what it is, but I will say

that it’s truly unique and in many ways really characterizes the

spirit

and imagination that make this program so successful."

Asked to describe the "Pony Express" initiative, Garwig burst

into laughter. "The state and national folk really love our Pony

Express," she says. "Pony Express is a group of MSP volunteers

who are very frugal. They did not want to waste money mailing

newsletters

and flyers to people who lived right in the area. They said, `Look,

I’ll walk up and down. I’ll deliver some. We now have a map of the

township, with highlighted areas indicating where volunteers hand

deliver materials. So when it’s time to for our newsletter to go out,

volunteers come by and we hand deliver a couple thousand copies

directly."

Buehler, asked if the Main Street Programs might tend to homogenize

downtowns into nostalgic strips of Americana that might all be pretty

much similar, stressed that with successful Main Street Programs the

exact opposite occurs. "Each town has to determine what it is

that they are, and what they want to be. You have to play to your

strengths, and form a vision of where you’re going that matches those

strengths.

Garwig is excited about the Master Site Plan for the village with

its design and traffic improvements, and excited about the upcoming

Capital Campaign that MSP will soon be kicking off. "One thing

that motivates all the volunteers in this process," she observes,

"is their love of Lawrenceville. What we’ve done is to

reclaim

our community. It’s our community again. People know each other’s

names. People love walking around the village again, bumping into

friends."

She adds, "We talk about Lawrenceville now as being our

children’s

home town. We want our children to have the same feeling about

Lawrenceville

as we had about our childhood home towns." With its thriving

downtown,

its sense of neighborliness, and its active cadre of residents,

businesses,

and institutions working together on common goals — like a real

community — it seems that Lawrenceville’s Main Street Project

can’t miss.

— Tricia Fagan

Main Street Project, 17 Phillips Avenue,

Lawrenceville

08648. Ann Garwig, executive director. 609-219-9300; fax,

609-219-9301.

E-mail villagemsp@aol.com


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