BERGEN: Fair Lawn, Tenafly, Hackensack, Hasbrouck Heights, Teaneck, & Bergenfield – The Home Team

Chris Bernardo
By Chris Bernardo May 16, 2012 18:51


Business owners mingling at the Hackensack Upper Main Alliance’s Thrive in 2009 Don’t Just Survive Expo, held earlier this month at the YMCA of Greater Bergen County.

More than ever, North Jersey towns need their accounting firms, doctors’ offices, retail stores and pizzerias for the property tax revenue they generate, and they’re doing what they can to help them stay in business.

In response to the economic downturn, town officials and business organizations are devising strategies to spark consumer spending because, they warn, significant slowdowns in business or outright failures could result in successful commercial property tax appeals, reducing tax revenue collected by towns. 

“The business community is the lifeblood of our town,” said Mayor Rose Heck of Hasbrouck Heights. “If we do not have a good commercial base, our tax revenue could go down and homeowners’ taxes could go up.” 

Politicians have pounded the pavement to get business support for street fairs, coupon programs, business expos and other initiatives intended to increase foot traffic and fill vacant properties. Some towns are promoting available properties and trying to negotiate volume pricing for advertising. Others are utilizing special improvement districts, a geographically defined group of commercial properties whose owners pay taxes to a dedicated fund for use solely for the district. 

Bergen County’s commercial properties make up only 6 percent of total properties but account for 22 percent of the towns’ collective total taxable assessment. In Passaic County, the 9 percent of commercial properties account for 26 percent of the total tax base. 

The concerns are legitimate, as some North Jersey developers and landlords have considered tax appeals on their buildings because rental income, which determines property values, has dropped as retailers have shuttered. 

Passaic County has received 853 commercial property tax appeals as of June 10, according to the county Board of Taxation, which is still hearing appeals. Bergen County’s tax board said it doesn’t record the number of appeals until they are scheduled in August. 

Towns would have to refund the money at a time when many are facing large tax increases, staff furloughs and possible layoffs. 

“The challenge is to find things we can do to help businesses but that don’t cost a lot of money,” said Teaneck Mayor Kevie Feit. 

One idea is the Teaneck Incentive Program, started this spring by the local chamber of commerce. Shoppers who buy items at participating stores will get coupons redeemable at other stores in the program. 

Feit said the program was designed to “give people an incentive to shop locally and not go to other towns or malls.” The campaign has no time limit, he said. 

The Cedar Lane Management Group manages Teaneck’s Cedar Lane Special Improvement District, which is helping the local businesses by rewarding safe-walking practices in town. Director Karel Littman said unsafe actions, such as jaywalking, have increased, so the CLMG has arranged for police officers to hand out discount coupons for 40 local stores to people walking legally. 

The program, started in April, will go for six months, Littman said. 

“We’ve been creative that way because we’ve felt the recession here,” she said. “That’s what you have to do in these times.” 

Fair Lawn Mayor Steven Weinstein has brought representatives from the state’s Economic Development Authority, the New Jersey Meadowlands Business Accelerator and the Internal Revenue Service to talk at council meetings about incentives and resources. 

Additionally, he and the town’s business organizations held a free symposium on small-business loans and resources available from economic development agencies. Weinstein said 60 business owners and residents attended, and he plans to hold another event. 

Weinstein also is talking with the owners of Stew Leonard’s Wines shops with hopes of securing a store to replace the vacated Rite Aid pharmacy. Other efforts include negotiations with Cablevision for a subsidized advertising rate for businesses. 

“This is the broader approach,” to helping businesses, Weinstein said. 

Marianne Tedesco, owner of Best Friend Grooming Salon on River Road in Fair Lawn, participated in a discount coupon program worth $5,500 that the River Road SID organized for participating businesses this spring to help during the recession. 

She said a regular customer, who had reduced pet groomings to every three months from six to eight weeks because of the economy, had come in for an extra grooming as a result of the coupon. One of the $20 coupons could pay for a bath for a small dog, she said. 

“I think it was wonderful,” she said. “It’s helping out the individual person save a little money here and there.” However she said she hasn’t gotten any new customers yet who’ve come in with coupons. 

Fair Lawn’s Broadway and River Road SIDS also are helping by negotiating a deal on behalf of its businesses with North Jersey Media Group, which publishes The Record, Herald News and 40-plus community papers, for reduced advertising rates. Bergenfield’s SID has a similar arrangement with the publisher. 

“If they [the towns] don’t have SIDs, they really don’t have the ability to do anything,” said Don Smartt, who manages the SIDs for Fair Lawn and Bergenfield, “because SIDs provide money.” 

The private/public collective of local businesses in The Hackensack Main Street Business Alliance and the city held its first networking event in early June called Thrive in 2009 Don’t Just Survive. 

Albert Dib, interim executive director, said board members felt that the tough economic times warranted a networking event to spur business-to-business and government partnerships and to prompt businesses to use city and county resources. 

“We hope this event will serve as an idea “incubator,” Dib said. 

Some events are held to advertise vacant storefronts in hopes of attracting other businesses. Most town officials and business groups say vacancies are high, but they don’t know which are available and which are rented with a pending occupancy. 

“Once we saw business was waning, we wanted to give exposure to the empty stores, which are not a lot but a few,” said Mayor Heck of Hasbrouck Heights. 

By talking to the businesses owners directly, Heck raised more than half of the estimated cost of the street fair her town held in May after the Borough Council turned down her request for funding. It paid the rest of the money needed to hold the event. 

Ninety businesses participated, Heck said, and the entertainment company that set up and ran the children’s amusement rides counted at least 10,000 people. Local restaurants were “swamped” all day, she said. 

Paterson’s Councilman Andre Sayegh is concerned about the city’s ethnic restaurants, which account for more than 50 percent of the city’s businesses. 

He said three to four restaurants closed since last August in his 6th Ward neighborhood. 

To help them survive, Sayegh coordinated dinners of about 40 people at a chosen restaurant. The first was last summer, and he’s planned another in August. 

“We just can’t have restaurants closing their doors,” he said. “It’s a key selling point to the city – the great ethnic diversity. 

“Let’s invest in this economy, and ultimately we’ll reap the rewards because they [businesses] generate revenue.” 

New efforts by towns and their business organizations to aid local companies:

Fair Lawn

  • Business-oriented symposium on economic development issues and small-business loans
  • Gift certificate program worth $5,500 in $10 gift certificates redeemable at River Road businesses


  • Approved three-year effort in November to create a business improvement district


  • Business-oriented Main Street Expo with speakers and booths for business-to-business networking

Hasbrouck Heights

  • Two sidewalk fairs: September with 50 businesses and May with 90 companies


  • Teaneck Incentive Program – business-to-business discount coupons given to customers who buy locally
  • Safety rewards program – police reward safe-walking pedestrians with discount coupons for local businesses
  • Free dance lessons held downtown extended by one month this summer


  • Bucks” District Dining Promotion issued 10 $50 gift certificates for local restaurants
  • Mall in a Mile gift certificate program worth $250 in $25 certificates redeemable at local businesses
  • Paterson:
  • Street fair with entertainment
  • Received proposals from marketing firms to publicize downtown business district around City Hall
  • Business district promotions on Facebook
  • Gatherings hosted at local restaurants by business neighborhood association for groups of 40 or more intended to boost repeat business
Chris Bernardo
By Chris Bernardo May 16, 2012 18:51

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