Village aims for student business despite vacancies
Although storefronts in downtown South Orange have recently become vacant, Village officials maintain that Seton Hall students can make a big impact on bringing in businesses.
According to Mark Rosner, a village trustee, who said that empty storefronts may still have someone paying rent, while landlords choose which businesses occupy their space, most of them realize that Seton Hall and the students will make up a “significant portion” of the clientele. “The Village and Main Street both would like to see more students in the downtown shopping at the businesses and eating at the local restaurants,” Rosner said. “I do feel that many businesses have made a sincere effort to attract more students to their business.” Village President Doug Newman said businesses can fail for many reasons, one being a lack of patron support. “Among the many reasons small businesses fail, including inadequate management and capital, is that shoppers simply don’t support them,” Newman said. “So, the corollary of asking whether empty stores impact students is whether students believe it’s important to support local businesses, and actively and routinely do so.” Newman added there is one empty store in downtown South Orange, but a lease has been signed for the space. According to Rosner, if businesses see Seton Hall students as a primary clientele, there are challenges which ensue as well, especially financial ones. “I think the challenge has been finding a business owner who sees the students as a primary customer base and still generate enough income to pay rent even when school is not in session,” Rosner said. Rosner added that it would certainly be helpful to the Village to have a business that students utilized and supported, and he emphasized the Village in the past has had some stores that were basically geared towards the college student but did not survive. The reasons for their failure have been a “subject of debate in the past.” However, Rosner said in the past the Village has seen times when student presence downtown was heightened and visible, particularly during the year when Seton Hall had a nationally ranked basketball team and went to the final four. “There seemed to be students on every corner and residents were all wearing SHU sweatshirts,” Rosner said. “The energy that came to the village was amazing. I would love to see that recreated and not just when a team goes to the championship game.” According to Newman, students cannot totally control what businesses go into the Village, since that is decided by commercial property owners, commercial real estate brokers and Main Street South Orange, who all “routinely tout the benefits of Seton Hall’s student body as a prospective customer base.” “That said, it’s ultimately the decision of entrepreneurs and more established retailers to assess whether they want to locate in a particular location,” Newman said. Ultimately, according to Rosner, students are still a powerful factor in bringing business to the Village. “The students can make a big impact on what businesses stay open as well as what types of businesses come to the village,” Rosner said. Samantha Desmond can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org