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New Jersey Towns Fight Internet & Malls – Local Events Bring Customers Back

[box_light]The Internet…Part Good, Part Bad[/box_light]

I have always believed that the internet is like a Pandora’s Box.  Once opened it is impossible to close.  Well it has happened.  The promise was to make our lives better and in many cases that might be the case, but in others, it has destroyed our lives too.  It is a wonderful convenience to go online and shop for products and find them at competitive prices.  It is convenient be able to watch movies on your computers or through downloads on an HD television.  If I want to get information fast, do research or even read the latest books, I can find that information immediately by doing a simple web search…so who needs to go to the library now, it is all available on the internet.  Want to travel, no problem, book it on the internet and just hope things go well when you arrive in a distant country. But what price have we paid for the internet and the conveniences?

Well,we have lost our privacy, we are being scammed and spammed each day and we have even lost our identity to thieves.  These international thieves now have access from anywhere in the world and are allowed into our homes through our internet connections.  Our corporate secrets are stolen, our national security is at risk, but let me know go on, this article is really not to condemn the internet, but to talk about how the internet has destroyed our local businesses.

[box_light]Shopping On The Internet[/box_light]

If you shop on the internet, you had better know what you are buying.  You can’t see the products anymore, you can’t feel, touch, taste or smell them either.  On the internet we have to settle for online user  “Reviews” which may be biased and some were put there by the products own people.  Returns can be made to an internet retailer, but if you don’t want to incur a restocking fee, you better read the fine print on the sites “Terms” or you can be hit with up to a 35% or larger restock fee plus return shipping.

So many local businesses are struggling to survive. So many businesses are simply disappearing now and that means so many more unemployed hit the already catastrophic numbers.  Every day I see more independent businesses and retailers vanishing.  Travel agencies, movie theaters, drive-ins of every kind, video stores, groceries, barbershops, butcher shops, clothing stores, camera stores, dance studios, shoemakers, hardware stores, independent book stores, appliance stores, gone, gone, gone. Think about what we have lost for what some will say is progress.

Costco, Walmart, Target, Amazon.Com…How can the independent stores survive?

So I would ask you…when was the last time you remember purchasing an item at a retailer who knew your name?  When did you feel you were dealing with a salesperson in a store that actually knew something about the products they sold?  Do you remember what good customer service was like or do you love dealing with an internet help line that is staffed in a third world country?

If you are tired of these advances in technology and get lost in one of the mega chain stores, then you might agree with me that it is time to get back to what we deserve and expect when we make a purchase.  I love the feeling I get when I walk into a store and I am greeted by the owner or manager who actually knows my name. I know that he truly appreciates my business and my loyalty.  I have been going to the same bakery/Italian specialty store for over 30 years and now it is run by the son.

So if we are to survive as a nation, we need to not only bring the jobs back home, but we need to encourage and support that entrepreneurial spirit that helped us build our country to our former greatness.  Helping our local economy is a must.

[box_light]Our Local Towns Are Fighting Back[/box_light]

Now I live in a small town in New Jersey. My town doesn’t even have a Main Street any more, but we do have lots of strips and plenty of chain restaurants and franchised businesses.  So how can we keep our small businesses alive in this environment?  Well, it is not easy and many towns are now fighting back.

A few of our local towns that do have a downtown like KeyportMatawan, Aberdeen and other towns in New Jersey have decided that enough is enough. They have begun to create special town events and they are doing it now on a regular basis.  They want the towns residents to come back to and patronize their local businesses.  Now the Main Street in most towns is a ghost town because all of our independent and franchised or chain stores are now located in convenient strip centers and the larger retailers are in the malls.

During the Fall I covered four of these events, you can see my article published in September here showcasing events in Keyport and in Aberdeen.  Last week I went to Keyport’s  Screamin Country Jamboree & Chili Fest. They had great rocking live music and hundreds of locals who filled the waterfront park and in the streets surrounding the park. The event was like a giant block party.  From what I could tell, everyone no matter what age was having a grand time.  The Keyport event was their 15th Annual Event and was a great success.  This two day event offered residents and visitors an affordable way for families to get out and enjoy not only the festivities and food, but sitting on the grass listening to the music, talking, singing and laughing with their neighbors.  What a wonderful way to spend the week-end with family and friends.

Keyport had rides for the children, lots of vendors from the area selling their wares and serving up some mouth watering festival food.  It gave people an opportunity to meet other locals, have a great time and encouraged them all to visit the towns stores and businesses.

[box_light]Matawan Day & Food Festival[/box_light]

Now Matawan Day was my next stop.  As we approached the Main Street area, we could see record crowds walking from parking areas to the event.  They closed the towns Main Street from one end of the business area to the other. Those who attended the one day event,  enjoyed local entertainment including a performance by a group of grade school cheerleaders going through their routines. Not sure if Pee Wee League Baseball now has cheerleaders, but it seemed that way.  Who knows, maybe one day one of these little ladies will become a  Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader. I was truly so much fun to watch these kids as they really attempted to stay synchronized during their performance. The crowd loved it.

The Matawan festival included participants from not only Matawan, but also from Aberdeen and Hazlet, all neighboring towns.  Some of the local restaurants offered tastes of their restaurants fare, the food trucks offered their specialties too. There were bottles of water and  samples of products from the drug stores. Banks, the Chamber of Commerce and other local businesses had pens, key chains, Halloween candy and even dog treats that they offered the festivals attendees. We even discovered a local bakery that we didn’t even now existed down the street. They had a large assortment of Gluten Free backed goods, that looked pretty good, unfortunately the line was out the door so I never had a chance to taste any…next time.  The children had a wonderful time as well, because they provided free rides and various inflatable fun places for them to play.

[box_light]How Can We Help Save Our Towns[/box_light]

If we are to save our towns and the local economy, we must decide what is more important.  Is it all about saving a few pennies by shopping on the internet?  Is it that convenience has now trumped quality and service?   I used to buy my freshly baked Italian breads every Saturday from DeMarco’s, our local Italian specialty store and bakery.  My kids grew up eating their Number 9 hero sandwich or sub (depends on what you come from) and their specialty breads (cheese, eggplant or primo breads).  With the opening of some of the Super, Super Markets, we started to shop for all of our food needs there…but then one day I realized…their breads simply didn’t taste the same and their Italian specialty products or sandwiches weren’t the same either. So we began to return to DeMarco’s Italian specialty store and when our boys come home to visit us, they also can’t wait to go to DeMarco’s as well. Visit their website they have a great video that show you how they make most of what they sell by hand.

I have found that the prices in the local stores were very close or the same as the mega supermarkets, but the quality and the taste was so much better in the local shops.  So now we forgo that little inconvenience and make the small effort and try to shop at independent merchant stores as much as we can.

During Matawan Days celebration while I was interviewing some of the people you will see in the video, my wife walked into the Matawan-Aberdeen library and joined.  Now she has an iPad and I run an internet based business, but she told me that she didn’t have to download a book or rent a video from Netflix, because the library had a huge collection of movies on DVD.  They also had digital books and had some of the latest printed books. She admitted that she still prefers to read printed book which she finds easier to read then reading them on the iPad.  She told me it was a different experience and she liked holding the book in her hands and actually flipping the pages.

So I would suggest that  each one of you that reads this article, should visit your local stores, you know the little stores in your towns, the ones you may not have visited in a long while. Walk back into the store and look around. Experience what a wonderful place it can be.  Introduce yourself to the owner and let them know you wanted to visit their shop to see or try what they are selling.  I think you will be surprised at how happy they will be to meet you and I can assure you that you will find the experience a wonderful and meaningful one and will end up going back often.

[box_light]Watch Our Video[/box_light]

Len Rapoport
Len Rapoport Administrator
IPA Editor-In-Chief, ID: 1000 • I am an internationally published photographer and the founder of International Press Association. As president and editor-in-chief, my duties at IPA are extensive. For over 50 years I have written articles, had my photos published in millions of publications, record album covers, books, and in the digital media. I was senior marketing and sales executive for major corporations, including my own and as a corporate communications consultant. I have taught photography and formed IPA 20 years ago. I currently work from my home office and continue to actively cover media events in addition to all of my other IPA and IMPress responsibilities.
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Len Rapoport
Len Rapoport Administrator
IPA Editor-In-Chief, ID: 1000 • I am an internationally published photographer and the founder of International Press Association. As president and editor-in-chief, my duties at IPA are extensive. For over 50 years I have written articles, had my photos published in millions of publications, record album covers, books, and in the digital media. I was senior marketing and sales executive for major corporations, including my own and as a corporate communications consultant. I have taught photography and formed IPA 20 years ago. I currently work from my home office and continue to actively cover media events in addition to all of my other IPA and IMPress responsibilities.
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