BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Each week leading to the November 3 election, the candidates running for Berkeley Heights Township Council have the opportunity to answer question(s) that will be run in a series by TAPinto Berkeley Heights.

The following answer is from Democratic Township Council Candidate Bret Sayre for Week 3.

Week 3 Questions:

Sign Up for Berkeley Heights Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

  • How will you support the local business community recover from the devastating effects of the COVID-19 closures and loss of business?
  • How will you help to attract and retain business both large and small to Berkeley Heights?
  • Where do you stand on the re-zoning and redevelopment of Connell Park?

Susan Poage and I have been working as a team since January to develop and publicize our platform. As we developed our ideas together, we have decided this week to introduce you to this part of our platform by dividing our areas of focus. Please be sure to read both our statements to get a full and robust response. You can view our full platform at https://poageandsayreforbh.com/the-issues/.

As a small business owner who has personally had to claw and scrape my way through the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, I understand firsthand what our local businesses are going through. The challenges can feel endless and overwhelming. This is why Susan and I developed our economic plan called THRIVE back in the Spring and have had it up on our public platform since. The aim of the plan is to not only help the business community recover from the devastating effects of the pandemic, but to attract and retain businesses long-term. The plan is broken up into five goals:

Supporting Proprietors. Whether it’s been dealing with re-opening regulations, short-term supply chain issues or navigating the CARES Act, our businesses are facing adversity that has not been seen in our lifetime. In order to help our business owners navigate continually changing economic environments and work together to create long-term sustainability, we propose the creation of a business mentorship program where our local entrepreneurs can share resources as a community and learn new ways to make their businesses successful. We also support the creation of a pre-application technical review committee to streamline Planning and Zoning Board approvals.

Incentivizing New Business. There’s nothing better for a town’s economy than to have its residents opening businesses of their own. We will look at potential new legislation to create tax incentives and other motivators for Berkeley Heights residents that open stores, restaurants or other retail shops within our community. Sometimes a small push in the right direction is all that a start-up enterprise needs in order to have long-term success. Investing in Berkeley Heights this way is a win-win for us all.

Creating Collective Visibility. This pandemic has shown us that businesses need to have a strong virtual footprint in order to be successful, regardless of what they sell or offer. The way we interact with stores and restaurants is changing and as a town we can both add value and educate our residents about all of our local businesses and encourage everyone to shop locally. We can put Berkeley Heights-based companies on stronger footing by creating a centralized website and social media home where residents and neighbors can see all new developments in our town’s restaurants, shops and service providers, and make purchases online easily.

Reducing Empty Storefronts. Some of our zoning regulations around downtown Berkeley Heights are out-of-date and need to be reviewed and revised. They create unnecessary obstacles for businesses to open. Another impediment for our downtown is empty storefronts, particularly long-term spaces that have remained unoccupied. We will support developing a more comprehensive zoning plan and explore ways to encourage property owners to keep their retail spaces occupied—shifting the economic model to favor residents and local businesses.

Building Community Connectivity. This year has shown an outpouring of support for Berkeley Heights local businesses as they struggle through the pandemic. We want to build off this ever-increasing bond by creating an organized and public micro-funding program. This is a great way to encourage both creative ideas for businesses and storefronts in town while getting buy-in from those who would make up its consumer base. Participants pitch ideas to residents at a community dinner, and the attendees vote at the end of the night on the best idea. The winning project gets to use the money collected to start funding for their endeavor. These community dinners can spark conversation and inclusion across all of Berkeley Heights as we collectively invest in our future.

When Berkeley Heights businesses succeed, Berkeley Heights succeeds.

[And yes, I do support the rezoning and redevelopment of Connell for all the reasons Susan mentioned earlier this week. One of the biggest myths out there is that our town cannot support both a vibrant downtown and a rezoned Connell hub. That couldn’t be further from the truth. In non-COVID times, we see over 9,000 people commute into Berkeley Heights to work and we have a community that is hungry to support local business. Proper support can really help them all thrive.]