WESTFIELD, NJ — A new ranking out from the website WalletHub puts Westfield last in a nationwide list of 1,337 “Best & Worst Small Cities to Start a Business,” but not everyone agrees with the website’s analysis.

Local business owners on Monday offered varied views on the findings, while Mayor Shelley Brindle decried the list as unfair, and Republicans seeking to unseat the Democratic majority-led town council used the study as an opportunity to bolster their position.

“They list these things with a bunch of selective criteria,” said Brindle, who pointed to a series of recent business openings among them a local salon and a South Avenue brewery as evidence of success in the downtown, even during the pandemic.

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WalletHub says that it used 20 metrics ranging from average growth in the number of small businesses to investor access to labor costs. Westfield landed at #1337 with a total score of 34.5, according to WalletHub, which gave Westfield a score of 1,228 for its “business environment,” 369 for “access to resources” and 1,332 for “business costs.”

For Gianna Grady, owner of Luna Grace Beauty Bar, which recently celebrated its grand opening in Downtown Westfield, the WalletHub numbers don’t add up.

“I feel like the community here, the people in Westfield really try to promote and support the businesses here, and even all the other business owners, too,” Grady said.

Is Westfield business friendly? “Absolutely,” she said.

But that that’s not everyone’s reality. After five years in Westfield, Woof Gang Bakery & Grooming last year left its location on East Broad Street and treated itself to a storefront in nearby Cranford.

The cost of renting space in Westfield became too much, co-owner Michelle Hannen said.

“They raised our rent substantially, and it wasn’t possible for us to stay there, so we looked at different locations in town, and that was pretty much the issue in every space we looked at,” Hannen said.

In a joint statement, the Republican candidates pointed to rising vacancies in the downtown.

“The abandoned stores and constant turnover of new business are obvious to anyone who passes through,” the candidates said. “We acknowledge that the private sector and specifically small businesses have shouldered the majority of the pain as a result of COVID-19; however, it appears as if competing downtowns such as Cranford and Summit are not struggling nearly as much as Westfield.”

Brindle, however, said the council approved a measure to provide tax abatements for certain property owners in the downtown and noted Westfield's partnership with Streetworks Development, which the council has named as the redeveloper for the now vacant Lord & Taylor property and the train station parking lots.

“I wouldn’t be running for mayor again if I wasn’t excited about what the next four years will bring,” Brindle said. “I see an incredibly bright future for us.”

Email Matt Kadosh at mkadosh@tapinto.net | Twitter: @MattKadosh

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