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Taking care of business

Despite challenges, borough businessowners optimistic for coming seasons


Despite challenges, borough businessowners optimistic for coming seasons

A store sign welcomes shoppers in downtown Collingswood. (Jamie Giambrone/08108)

Collingswood’s business districts have been fighting a long battle through the COVID-19 pandemic, but with help from the borough’s administration, has survived and looks forward to a thriving holiday season.

When the pandemic hit the United States in March, the borough’s businesses had to rapidly change the way things were done. Restaurants were shuttered and stores had to move to online-only sales.

“What we saw was a lot of businesses did this amazing pivoting,” said Cass Duffey, acting borough administrator and former director of community development. “Several were able on the turn of a dime to revamp their entire business model in a week’s time.”

Tara Hislip and Ray Albano walk down Haddon Avenue in Collingswood. (Jamie Giambrone/08108)

This change was not only difficult but could have been a death knell for hundreds of local businesses, however, the vast majority managed to survive the uncertainty and make it work as best as possible.

Occasionette, a card and gift shop located on Haddon Avenue, is one such store that had to shift its entire strategy.

“We pivoted to sell online very soon after we had to shut down in March,” Sara Villari, the store’s owner and creative director, said. “We had our website up and shoppable within 36 hours of when we had to close, and as soon as we were allowed to do curbside pickup, we were doing that.”

As the state’s recommendations for dining and shopping evolved, Collingswood’s community development team worked to ensure the storefronts and restaurants could continue to do business as best as possible.

The team worked to establish a successful outdoor dining plan for the local restaurants and pushed pedestrian traffic into the street to accommodate the restaurant’s seating limitations, Duffey said.

“We had this great fear that we’d see empty storefronts and businesses close,” she said. And while not every business has made it, creating a heartbreaking situation for some, most of them have survived.

As restrictions continue to loosen, the borough is looking to a bright future, while continuing to modify its programs to make shopping and dining attractive to the public, especially as the pivotal holiday season approaches.

The Cash Mob event that normally takes place has been adapted to a “cash mob bingo” event, where participants can enter a drawing for prizes. Restaurant Week will take place with necessary modifications Oct. 18 through 23, and November’s Collingswood Cash program will continue.

“I think it is cautious optimism. People are coming back out and the businesses have done a great job adapting to make it COVID-friendly,” said Rebecca Callaway, Collingswood’s director of community development. “We need the businesses and the businesses need us. We’ve worked very hard with them to keep it safe for the people. That’s what Collingswood is all about.”

Ensuring safety continues to be a main concern, and business owners are trying to maximize their services for the customer while minimizing risks.

For Villari, who is opening a second Occasionette location in Collingswood, losing the sales from Mother’s Day was a huge hit, so making sure the holiday season is available for shopping is paramount, and that means everyone working together to keep safety a priority.

“The only way small businesses like ours will survive through the end of the year is if we can keep our doors open,” she said. “As a small business you’re always relying on your neighbors and the people in your community to support your business. Now we are relying on people to not only shop local, but to stay safe.”

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