STAFFORD – Despite some empty storefronts, officials here said that the business community is thriving.
Driving the major business roads of Route 72, Route 9, and Bay Avenue, there are spots of empty stores. In the Kmart plaza, there is still the outline of a Radio Shack sign. Two gas stations on 72 are empty. These vacancies are not an indicator of something greater, officials said, but par for the course in this economic climate.
“Doors open and close all the time,” Mayor John Spodofora said. “Fortunately, in Stafford, there’s a list of people who want to come in here. When one closes down, another goes right into it. Sometimes it just takes a little longer than other times.”
Lori A. Pepenella, chief executive officer for the Southern Ocean Chamber of Commerce, agreed with this assessment.
“There’s a lot of new buildings and a lot of interest” from businesses, she said. AtlantiCare health is coming in, and other new buildings are around.
The town is still a commuter area, she said. A lot of people leave Ocean County to work elsewhere. This has been the trend since many of these towns built out.
“Now you definitely see a need and a desire to open closer,” she said. People are sick of commuting and are looking toward opening up businesses closer to home, she said. It’s the job of the chamber to work with local municipalities to help craft the ordinances that will create an environment that fosters businesses coming in.
Store openings wax and wane with the economy naturally, said James Moran, the township’s business administrator.
“We’re pretty packed. By and large, businesses seem to be thriving,” he said.
Going back and forth along Route 72, everything to the west of the Garden State Parkway is governed by the Pinelands Commission. There are few standalone buildings, but a couple of developments.
East of the Parkway, there is more development on the south side. The north side is protected wetlands.
“All the way up to Mill Creek to the bridge. There’s nothing ever going there,” Moran said.
Within the township’s master plan, there is 70 percent of the township set aside for open space, Spodofora said. There are no large developments expected, just infill development of empty lots.
“Most of our residential development is done,” he said. “We’re in a place where hopefully we’ll never have to build another school.”