BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - The Berkeley Heights Business and Civic (BHB&C) held their first in-person breakfast on Friday since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March. Delicious Heights hosted the breakfast for about 50 business and civic leaders under the tent that provides extended outdoor seating.
While 5Ks and town wide events were canceled this year, the BHB&C remained active working to pivot their focus to the needs of the businesses and community. They helped to raise money for Business Aid: Berkeley Heights, providing $109,000 of emergency grant money to 47 local businesses, facilitated the Berkeley Heights drive-in movie experience, and launched the Berkeley Heights Cares pledge.
Dr. Patrick Smith, chairman of the BHB&C, recapped and credited the many people involved. He said, early on when businesses were forced closed due to Governor Murphy's executive order, Berkeley Heights resident Sheryl Manfreda came to him and said, "How can we help the Small Businesses?" After some brainstorming, "we created this little project, Business Aid: Berkeley Heights," he said. Thanks to 500 donors, The Connell Company's $50,000 matching grant and a virtual silent auction [facilitated by the Rotary Club of Berkeley Heights] -- $109,000 was raised," he said.
"We put our heads together, we dealt, worked hard -- and the combination of Rotary and Berkeley Heights Business & Civic groups -- worked together for the common good. And $109,000 later, 47 emergency grants done, all through an independent committee -- and you know, we helped businesses get through a tough time," Smith said. "It also helped to endear the community to the business community. We need a little help too. -- Once every hundred years, a pandemic comes along -- we needed a little help. Everybody associated is pretty proud."
He said, then summer came along. "We couldn't do summer concerts, we can't have 5K road races, we can't have summer camps. What can we do? We have drive-in movies, right? Why not drive-in movies -- they are naturally socially distant. So a little company called Boxcar, that normally parks cars, they pivoted and said hey, we got an idea that came to us." The BHB&C worked with the township Recreation Commission and arranged to show three movies at Connell Park. "We got something really cool done because we work together," said Smith.
Now, we are entering colder weather, he said. "We want to make sure they [community members] get real coffee coming downtown, that it's safe to sit together and have a meal -- and be a human being." With more brainstorming, "we've come up with another program called Berkeley Heights Cares," he said. "We need everybody on board. We need everybody -- whether you believe it or not -- what ever your political affiliation, I don't care -- I don't care. All we need is people to feel calm and make people feel comfy. And here's how they feel confident -- they feel comfy when they know that your business is requiring facemasks and providing hand sanitizer and socially distancing, and keeping things clean. I know the people are coming out of the woodwork now, when they come to our office, and they see that everything is paperless, automated and really safe. And all the extra care and attention -- they tell everybody. -- We did all the right things because we care about everybody to go the extra mile."
The Berkeley Heights Cares Pledge Program expands on that. The latest strategy is to make customers feel safer as they venture out to Berkeley Heights businesses during the pandemic. The Berkeley Heights Cares campaign provides business owners the opportunity to show they agree to stick with the latest health guidelines through daily temperature checks for workers and sending them home when they are sick, wearing face masks on the job, stepped-up hand washing and sanitizing of commonly touched surfaces.
Now, it's the community's turn! Take the Berkeley Heights Cares Pledge to ensure the safety of the community and keep Berkeley Heights businesses open. All who sign the pledge will be entered into virtual drawings to win gift cards donated by Berkeley Heights businesses.
To learn more about the Berkeley Heights Business and Civic and to participate in the Berkeley Heights Cares program by hanging a poster in your storefront or by donating a gift card, email BHBusinessandcivic@gmail.com.