Local Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) recently announced that the $787 billion federal stimulus bill will mean jobs and tax cuts for New Jersey. This comes as good news to state residents and business owners who have had to brace for a rough economy.
Last year, the state lost 15,900 manufacturing jobs, a number that will soon increase when North Bergen book printer Book-mart Press, Inc. closes next month with a loss of 72 local jobs.
The total figure was trumped only by the loss of jobs in the trade, transportation, and utilities sector, which was 18,100, according to published reports.
New Jersey businesses are also closing branches in other states. The Weehawken-based Hanover Direct, which sells home furnishings, gifts, and clothing, plans to soon shut down a Pennsylvania call center, losing 105 jobs, but plans to open a facility in Wisconsin, according to published reports.
However, in Hudson County, the grand opening of the Westin Jersey City Hotel on Washington Boulevard has brought in 230 new jobs, and an impending opening of a “W” hotel on the Hoboken waterfront will mean many more. New malls and store expansions are also in the works for North Bergen – which will see “big box” stores on upper Tonnelle Avenue – and Secaucus, whose Walmart plans to become a Super Walmart and offer more groceries. In addition, the massive Xanadu Meadowlands recreation/retail complex on Route 3 just outside Secaucus is scheduled to open toward the end of the summer.
“I thought we were going to do a lot worse.” – Oscar Miqueli
Jersey City is also set to acquire 300 more jobs in the relocation of a New York City company, Arch Insurance Group, to Harborside.
In Hoboken, Thomson Financial, which offers information and technology solutions for the financial industry, just leased a 15,000-square-foot space in an office building owned by SJP Properties on the south waterfront.
However, business remains unpredictable in many areas.
On Main Street…and Bergenline Avenue
Michael Parkes, the owner of Michael’s Jewelers in West New York, said that Bergenline Avenue is a reflection of the national picture.
“We are a microcosm of what is going on,” he said, noting that while business has been spotty, but he has had some good days, particularly those right before Valentine’s Day.
“There is still business, but there’s not high traffic, not high volume,” said Parkes. He said this has caused him to be much more conservative with his inventory.
“People are carefully choosing when and where to spend their dollars,” he said.
Diane Gianettino, who owns the Bayonne-based DCG Creative marketing company, said she sees her clients scaling back.
“People are asking if there are ways they could cut costs,” she said, noting that some clients are now choosing to produce ads in black and white instead of color.
“They may not be doing as big a runs when they print,” said Gianettino.
Though business has slowed down, she said her strong base of longtime customers has kept her company running.
Oscar Miqueli, the West New York Urban Enterprise Zone coordinator, said that customer bases have been helping the more established businesses stay afloat, and that overall, the situation has not been as bad as he expected.
“I thought we were going to do a lot worse,” he said.
Several towns in the area, including West New York, Union City, Jersey City, and Guttenberg have Urban Enterprise Zones, which are urban business districts that can lure shoppers with a low, 3.5 percent sales tax. In addition, the money from that tax can be combined with state grants to help improve the district.
Miqueli said the businesses that continue to do well are those offering necessities. But there are some other types of stores doing well: In West New York, he said, a cell phone store and a jewelry store opened before Christmas and are still in business.
‘I have to keep up my looks’
Another luxury not being forgone is skin care, said Gianettino, who is the marketing director for Hudson Laser Skincare in Bayonne.
“In this economy, the beauty industry is still doing well because people still want to look good,” she said.
She noted that this could be because companies are now letting go of executives and other top earners who tend to be in the older demographic. They now have to compete with the younger and usually lower-paid workers.
“We have had a few clients say it is tough out there and the competition is fierce,” she said. “We have had a few people say ‘I have to keep up my looks.’ ”
The clients are shopping around on the internet, she said, to make sure they are getting the best deal.
“People are coming in more informed,” she said. “I think if we weren’t having discounts, it would be quieter. You have to be competitive.”
Another young business is the Feelgood Restaurant and Lounge in Secaucus. The owner, Oby Corral, said that his affordable, good food and inexpensive happy hours draw in the crowds.
“We offer so much,” he said. “We offer so many different things here that we are able to pull in people from different angles.”
Corral said that his location, near several corporate buildings, also helps. He said that several laid-off workers have come in for a drink.
“Every day, somebody comes in and says ‘Oh, I just lost my job,’ ” he said. “They were coming here when they had their job, and being that they have lost their job, they come here anyway.”
He added that overall, the volume of customers has increased since he opened two years ago and that he often gives free rounds to regulars.
Cheaper restaurants, fuel efficient vehicles
In contrast, the Hudson County landmark restaurant, Arthur’s Landing, which had been in business for nearly 20 years, closed right before Valentine’s Day, which is usually a moneymaker for most eateries in the area.
A note dated Feb. 3 on the restaurant’s website stated, “The severity of this downturn and the unlikelihood of a turnaround in the near future sadly leaves us no alternative but to close down operations, effective immediately.” It also mentioned that the current economic situation has had a severe impact on several high-end establishments.
Besides changing their lifestyle by cutting down on reservations, people are also switching to smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles.
“People are modifying their habits and being more green-conscious,” said Elizabeth Young, the sales manager at Vespa Jersey City, which offers a variety of motorized scooters. “We have been doing okay because they are so much more convenient and useful and fun. We have seen a slowdown just because of the season, but there are also a whole bunch of people who are our clients who commute on them year-round.”
Young said that the business just opened last year, but she did see big demand when gas prices were at their peak.