In spite of the pandemic or, more positively, precisely because of COVID-19, the historic Borough of Flemington, New Jersey, has seen a new business boom. The one-square-mile seat of Hunterdon County has welcomed 16 new retail businesses, 13 of which are exclusively local, since March 2020. According to the Flemington Community Partnership (FCP) that manages the borough’s downtown areas, Flemington led a unified effort to support its business community during the pandemic and this support, in turn, attracted new openings.
Flemington is situated in Central New Jersey about 60 miles southwest of New York City and is experiencing sustained small business growth, signaling its viability. “Our historic Central Jersey community swiftly adapted to new market conditions, pursuing an active, ‘open for business’ plan,” said Flemington Mayor Betsy Driver. “We continue to explore ideas of how to promote and support our local businesses, focusing on our many boutiques, cafes, and other shops, and pursuing the larger, long-term, community-appropriate redevelopment and revitalization.”
The borough’s marketing and communication efforts on behalf of local businesses have been key during the ongoing public health crisis, as FCP Executive Director Robin Lapidus explained that Flemington helped to provide advertisements and promotions, as well as signage so customers understood when local businesses were open and in what capacity as restrictions changed.
“The pandemic renewed interest in shopping closer to home, required greater communication with business owners,” said Lapidus, “and awakened everyone to the absolute need to support local businesses or see them perish.”
The Corner, a retail store and photography studio, was the dream of co-owners Dave and Ally Norton and just opened in January of this year. “We felt encouraged by local civic leaders, the FCP, and other neighboring businesses that this was a sound business move, one that would help move our community in a positive direction,” Ally Norton noted. “We live a short walk from The Corner and plan to remain here as our family, our business. and the community grows. We feel really strongly that Flemington is our home, and we are committed to investing in it to continue to make it a lively and thriving town.”
The Corner is just one of the new downtown destinations, which include cafes, bakeries, boutiques, salons, and restaurants, and the Nortons are in good company. Planners at Stantec’s Urban Places, a firm of urban development experts hired by Flemington, believe the borough is well-positioned to offer a vibrant downtown that addresses emerging real estate trends.
“We are going through a dramatic shift. Singles and couples without children will make up the majority of new homeowners,” explained Jeff Sauser, Senior Associate and Urban Planner at Stantec. “They’ll be looking to settle in communities that are walkable, with downtowns that offer amenities such as coffee shops, restaurants, and outdoor cafes.”
Stantec is gathering exclusive community input to be presented next month and has been charged with revitalizing several core business districts and improving overall walkability and livability. The project is funded by an Opportunity Zone grant, one of only five awarded by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority.
Redevelopment beyond retail is also booming with the facade restoration of the borough’s Union Hotel, built circa 1814, and Courthouse Square — the mixed-use project that will include 200-plus residential units, 20,000 square feet of retail/restaurant space, and an outdoor plaza.
65% of Flemington is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and the borough has always been at the intersection of agriculture and the arts, creating a charmingly unique look and feel.
“We believe that our well-situated borough in the heart of Central New Jersey, with our small-town feel, is ripe with opportunities to become a highly desirable, walkable, authentic, and beautiful historic place where many will want to live, work, play, and create,” added Paul Marciano, Chair of the FCP Board.
Home to more than 400 businesses, Flemington is growing into a regional destination for restaurants, festivals, and events for every season. Visit loveflemington.com and historicflemington.com for more information.