By LOUIS C. HOCHMAN
As of this week, more than 140 Montclair businesses had joined a centralized directory organizers hope will promote Montclair shops, restaurants, vendors and services — and now, connect them with resources for recovery from Ida.
“We realized we needed a place where they could find out where all the businesses were. That meant one single directory that could easily be used to find anything across Montclair,” Raj Amin, founding partner of consulting company Teem Ventures, said. Amin heads up the small business subcommittee of Mayor Sean Spiller’s COVID-19 Recovery Task Force, which had been looking for ways to promote local businesses struggling through the lockdowns, restrictions and economic downturn of the coronavirus pandemic.
Earlier this month, LoveOurMontclair.com formally launched. A spotlight feature on Van Hook Cheese & Grocery tells you how excited owners Christian and Laura Chastain were to move into their Walnut Street location in July (following the shop’s original location, in Jersey City): “We love the food scene here and appreciate the support that the community shows for our independent businesses.” Another, about Salon Organic in Watchung Plaza, quotes proprietor Anne Gray Hall on the virtues of going green: “I care about my body and the climate. I realize our paths are continually unfolding. I value life.”
The project was created in partnership with the Montclair Center Business Improvement District (and funded through a Main Street New Jersey administered through the BID), but isn’t limited to businesses that are part of the district. Montclair Center has its own directory at MontclairCenter.com, but there are six business districts in the township (Uptown Montclair, Watchung Plaza, Frog Hollow, Walnut Street and South End Village are the others), and some businesses aren’t part of any association at all. Gleason said he’s been glad to encourage his members to take part — “It takes a village, right?” — and said he thinks the centralized resource can be a shared benefit.
The idea is an outgrowth of two earlier initiatives. A previous site, ShopEatMontclair.com (which now redirects to LoveOurMontclair.com), focused on discounts and promotions. And Spiller, Deputy Mayor Bill Hurlock and Councilman Peter Yacobellis had worked together to promote the “Love Our Montclair” concept in newspapers on social media last year.
Amin described ShopEatMontclair.com as a prototype of the current site and concept. But LoveOurMontclair, he said, “is more of an evergreen directory, something that can be used long-term.”
“We didn’t want to be focused on discounts only,” he said. Big box scores and online retailers can often undercut small businesses on price alone, Amin said, but locally owned businesses “do have a focus on quality, and being a part of our community.”
And he sees LoveOurMontclair as a resource that can grow.
“This is a platform. It’s one we hope all businesses will register for,” he said.
The directory can be filtered by business type and area of town. “Sometimes discovery is hard,” Amin said. “We wanted to help solve that.”
About $45,000 of the $867,000 Main Street grant was allocated to building the website and maintaining it, Gleason said. He wasn’t sure just how long the funding by itself would support continued operation of the site, but said it would be “certainly to the end of the year or longer, enough time to explore long-term options.”
Gleason and Amin both described it as a project driven by the dedication of the task force’s small business subcommittee and others involved.
“I can’t emphasize enough the passion of this committee,” Gleason said.
The $45,000, in itself, wouldn’t cover all the costs involved in collecting the data and building the platform, Amin said, but “we all contributed services to make it possible.”
The directory got a promotional boost from a fundraiser Yacobellis started in the aftermath of Ida, to help residents, businesses and nonprofits struggling with storm damage and flooding.
He set aside $5,000 of the more than $41,000 his fundraiser collected in all, for promotional and marketing support of LoveOurMontclair.com, including an advertisement in Montclair Local.
Yacobellis said when he spoke with community and business leaders after the storm’s intense floods, it seemed like the donations he could realistically make directly to shops or restaurants suffering tens of thousands of dollars of damage wouldn’t be very useful. But LoveOurMontclair.com was already intended in part to help a business community struggling in the pandemic; Yacobellis said he hoped helping promote it could benefit businesses in the aftermath of Ida as well.
The site itself has a “Hurricane Relief Resource” page — links to the New Jersey Economic Development Authority’s grants program for storm-damaged businesses, FEMA’s application for disaster relief and other avenues for support.
“We thought, ‘Let’s get some resources out there, where these funds can do the most good,’” Yacobellis said. “Let’s do something that has a real return on investment for these businesses.”