By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
Glenridge Avenue business owners say they have been dealing with a rodent problem since May, as well as a recent unannounced road closure that is keeping deliveries and customers at bay.
A handful of business owners and Jason Gleason, executive director of the Montclair Center Business Improvement District, called into the Tuesday, Aug. 10 Montclair Township Council meeting, pleading for some form of communication. Just a day later, Gleason told Montclair Local that township officials were working to address the business owners’ concerns over the closure, which had started one week prior.
Business owners came to open their shops Wednesday, Aug. 4 and saw that the street was closed from Bloomfield Avenue to N. Willow Street.
Some of about 20 other Glenridge Avenue businesses owners called in to complain about the sudden and unannounced street closure, which will continue for a month due to construction on the Midtown/Glenridge Parking Garage.
Gleason said he spent two days the week of the closure “consoling” business owners over the unannounced street closure.
“No car traffic, no deliveries, no visibility, no parking, no warning. These are businesses that have survived COVID. It’s been the hardest year ever,” he told the council. “How are they supposed to survive if they can’t communicate to their customer base? Does the township administration care at all about its business community?”
He said some of the business owners were in tears, and others thought about packing up shop. He called for better communication and respect from the township administration.
“According to the project manager, this [the closure] was always part of the plan. It could have been communicated,” Gleason said.
He pointed to a lack of communication by the township back in January, when businesses owners were taken by surprise when the township announced on short notice the Midtown/Glenridge Parking Garage closure. The garage was closed due to the commencement of construction to expand the facility.
Although business owners said they are optimistic about the reopening of the parking garage with so much additional space in an area that has been plagued with parking issues, they found the lack of communication and time to prepare for a month-long road closure upsetting.
“So many of us are just recovering from COVID-19 and to be told our street will be closed for one month unnoticed is just another blow to small business,” Rivera said. “We should have done better than this.”
Township Manager Tim Stafford said the police ordered an earlier-than-planned road closure due to safety issues with ongoing construction at the Glenridge garage, but acknowledged the lack of notification.
Paul Giordano, owner of White Rabbit Black Heart, told Montclair Local that he missed a few deliveries as they couldn’t get down the block. But the township is allowing trucks and residents access to the otherwise closed-off section of Glenridge Avenue between Bloomfield Avenue and Forest Street. Giordano said he’s more recently been able to contact the delivery companies to let them know they have access to the road, or to have them dolly the boxes over from Bloomfield Avenue.
“August is our busy delivery month when we are getting our Christmas deliveries,” he said.
The owners of Parlor Hair Studio and Good Bottle Refill Shop, both on Glenridge Avenue, called into the council meeting to say the street closure was hurting business.
Gleason told Montclair Local that on Wednesday, Aug. 12, the township had appealed to the county to place signage on county-owned Bloomfield Avenue that Glenridge Avenue will be a two-way road from Bloomfield Avenue to Forest Street — instead of the usual one-way from Forest Street heading to Bloomfield Avenue — but for trucks and local access only. The township is also expected to place signage indicating that the shops are open for business.
Parlor owner Wendy Fox-Warfield said her clients are late getting to their appointments due to the lack of parking and the street closure, which pushes other clients’ appointments back. Bottle Refill owner Diana Taylor said the street was also closed unannounced on Earth Day, which she described as “Black Friday” for a business that prides itself on sustainability through its refill service.
Along with the street closure and lack of parking, businesses owners say they have been battling a rodent problem since May that has gone unaddressed. DollyMoo owner Amy Rivera told the council the rat infestation is growing by the day.
“They are large and aggressive and leave droppings and borrow in the planters,” Rivera said.
Giordano estimated he has lost $800 worth of plants to the rodents burrowing overnight.
According to Stafford, the Montclair Board of Health investigated and didn’t find much rat activity, but Rivera said that’s because the officials made their visits during the day. The rats come out at night, she said.
When the garbage is put out at night, a feeding frenzy ensues, leaving garbage strewn all over the sidewalks, Rivera said.
“The last thing we want is for these images and videos showing up on social media, which would have a major impact on tourism and local business,” Rivera said.
A township environmental health specialist inspected the area on July 15 and did not see any rodents, township Communications Director Katya Wowk said. Although the specialist did not find burrows or even the rats themselves, the specialist found cracks in holes in the foundation of the long-abandoned St. Paul’s Seventh Day Christian Church at 205 Glenridge Ave. Stafford said the church has contracted a company to maintain the building. The building is scheduled for demolition, but must first get approval from the township’s Historic Preservation Commission, which has oversight of all demolitions in Landmark Districts.
Mayor Sean Spiller suggested that the township require all garbage be placed in lidded cans, and that public baiting could be conducted.
According to the township environmental health specialist, any food or waste can contribute to the rodent problem, Wowk said.
Councilwoman Robin Schlager said she discussed the rodent problem with Gleason and both agreed that the construction and digging at the parking facility site could be the cause of the rodent infestation. But Township Attorney Ira Karasick, who met with the developer, said the developer had not seen an emergence of rats around the construction site.
Assistant Township Manager Brian Scantlebury said Montclair does not exterminate on private property, and that it would be up to the businesses to hire their own contractors. He said the church had hired an exterminator.
Construction began on the Glenridge Garage in January and is expected to take one year. Businesses owners and Gleason said they look forward to the reopening of the garage, which will be expanded from 83 to 314 public parking spots, and had anticipated road closures. But said they had expected better communication in order to prepare.
“We want to work with the town and need communication to do that. We [the BID] can be the peanut butter and jelly in that sandwich,” Gleason said.
The one-way direction of the section of Glenridge Avenue between Bloomfield Avenue and Forest Street will also be reversed at the end of the construction, allowing access to give motorists easier access from Bloomfield Avenue to the garage.
Wendy Fox-Warfield’s and Paul Giordano’s names were spelled incorrectly in an earlier version of this post.