It’s becoming easier than ever to shop local in Fair Lawn.
Located in the heart of Bergen County, the borough of 33,000 people has more than 600 small businesses, ranging from kosher pizzerias and acupuncturists to investment firms and children’s entertainers.
In an effort to make residents more aware of all that one of the county’s largest municipalities has to offer, the Fair Lawn Economic Development Corp. compiled that information in one place — a free online directory called the Fair Lawn Marketplace.
Besides highlighting the breadth of services and activities available locally, the newly launched site aims to give greater exposure and searchability to the many shops, businesses and organizations listed at fairlawnmarketplace.com.
Its debut also came in time for Small Business Saturday, an annual campaign held the Saturday after Thanksgiving that encourages shoppers to support local independent merchants – from traditional brick-and-mortar retailers to service providers to e-commerce businesses.
This year, as Main Street businesses are still trying to heal from the pandemic, a recent American Express Shop Small impact survey found that 56% said Small Business Saturday is more critical than ever.
For Elyss Frenkel, the owner of Chicken Galore, a fried chicken restaurant on Broadway, the added boost provided by the Fair Lawn Marketplace is nothing but a plus for the local business community — especially coming out of the COVID crisis.
“The internet is an integral part of business today. It is important for small businesses to be seen online in order to remain in the public space. It is a very powerful place. People of all ages ask a phone or an Alexa-type device ‘What restaurants are near me?’ and choose where to eat based on that answer,” Frenkel explained. “If your name does not come up, you will not get that business.”
Although Chicken Galore has a website, as well as a Facebook page, Frenkel said, “Many small places do not have web addresses, due to cost or even understanding. This [Fair Lawn Marketplace] puts them out there on display, so to speak sort of – in the arena – with good information — for anyone to see.”
Planning began in October 2020, just a few months after Abigail Polizois began as EDC’s president and the public-private partnership began shifting its priority from helping businesses develop to helping businesses survive the pandemic.
Though the public health emergency prompted many restaurants and businesses to begin offering online services, Polizois said it also “brought to light how many small businesses had a lacking or nonexistent web presence” and motivated the EDC to help “fill in the gaps for these underrepresented businesses.”
From there, the EDC teamed up with the Fair Lawn Chamber of Commerce and the NJ Small Business Development Center at Ramapo College to provide a digital platform that put all businesses, services and vendors in town on an equal footing.
With no comprehensive list of local businesses to refer to, EDC board member Frank Hall said the sheer number of businesses situated in Fair Lawn “came as a surprise” and that they “kept discovering more” as the year-long project progressed.
“Since the site has launched, numerous others have contacted us, looking to be added. In fact, with such a large number of business locations, we know it will be a perpetual job to update the site, as businesses come and go,” said Hall.
When it came time to develop the technical aspects of the project, the EDC turned to the SBDC at Ramapo College, which provides no-cost assistance to businesses, nonprofits and organizations across North Jersey.
For its part, the SBDC assigned Andrew Clark, one of its junior consultants and a computer science major, to work with the EDC to “map out the best strategy to complete the Fair Lawn Marketplace,” said Regional Director Vincent Vicari.
“He also interfaced with the company hosting the site, identified and helped fill gaps, fixed errors, made site improvements, and worked on search engine optimization. He also aided with data entry, categorization, and tagging. [And he] helped put together a distributed mailer, with a specialized QR code, that went out to every unique address in Fair Lawn,” Vicari said.
He went on to say, “The SBDC is proud to have played a role in creating this marketplace and enhancing the economic vitality of the region. This digital marketplace has made Fair Lawn the gold standard on how a N.J. municipality can come together to support its local business population.”
Since the site went live, Polizois said, “The feedback has been overwhelming. We have received a very warm reception from local businesses and the borough of Fair Lawn alike.”
Additionally, it has earned accolades for being an invaluable service to the community from U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-5th District, Bergen County Executive James Tedesco and the Bergen County Board of Commissioners.
The project is also one of the first to be funded through a grant administered by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs’ Main Street New Jersey program.
In September 2021, the Fair Lawn Economic Development Corp. secured a Main Street New Jersey designation for the borough, opening access to financial resources to help its business districts. The EDC was among the 14 Main Street New Jersey district organizations across the state to receive grants from the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs earlier this year.
In Fair Lawn, the EDC used the grant to help businesses make non-structural updates to storefronts as part of a façade improvement program.
Those are just two of the many initiatives launched by EDC to encourage local spending and support of community businesses.
There’s also a new subsidized gift card program, which allows local businesses to sell gift cards at a discount and receive compensation by the EDC for the discounted percentage.
Over the summer, the EDC and Fair Lawn Main Street New Jersey program successfully ran a Small Business Scavenger Hunt, in which people were invited to submit selfies visiting various businesses across town for a chance to win gift certificates at local stores.
For information on the Fair Lawn Economic Development Corp., visit fledc.com.
For information on how to add a business to the Fair Lawn Marketplace, visit fairlawnmarketplace.com.