TOMS RIVER – What would downtown Toms River’s identity be? Is it municipal buildings? Is it small shops? Is it historical?
There are other walkable downtowns in New Jersey that have their own identities, but Toms River is aiming to be different, said Alizar Zorojew, executive director of Downtown Toms River, the business improvement district. In order to forge its own character, it shouldn’t copy other towns, but become unique.
The changes to the downtown area are both macro and micro. On the larger scale, the Red Carpet Inn is being cleared away. A few apartment complexes with parking garages and floor-level retail are planned. Township officials want the Post Office moved, a transportation hub, reconfigured traffic patterns, and the river highlighted with open views and a park.
But those are all wide-lens photos of the downtown area. Those changes would take years to happen, if at all. What about the smaller steps being taken every day?
For that, you have to walk around and stop in at the Downtown Shops at 53 Main. Formerly the site of Tommy’s Restaurant, the business improvement district has offices on the second floor. The first floor has been turned into a business incubator. Here, entrepreneurs can start their small businesses in a low risk setting without taking on costly rents.
The spaces come with a year lease. Zorojew said the ideal candidates will outgrow these spots, and move into larger property. Currently, the spots are rented out by places like the NJ CBD shop and Van Go Pottery Painting. The shops are open from Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
At the back of the units there’s a place that can be rented out for special events and the Clubhouse uses for concerts. The Clubhouse is a nonprofit place created to support the arts. There’s a distinct punk flavor, descended from the Asbury Park Punk Rock Flea Market. That fits the style of what they are trying to do, since punk is about a do-it-yourself aesthetic. That’s reflected in the music, clothing, and decoration on sale there. Creative people drop off their wares and the Clubhouse sells them, splitting the profit. If the Shops at 53 are for people who want a small location, the Clubhouse is for people who just want some shelf space.
Director Timmy Mura said the goal of the Clubhouse is to support the local art and music scene. It’s neighbor is the Toms River Artist Community. It has a free gallery in the Shops at 53.
Among other activities, they will be hosting the Summer Arts Fest (formerly Art in the Park). This will be held Aug. 17 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 28-46 Hadley Avenue across from the Ocean County Historical Society. The rain date is Aug. 18.
But as much as there’s an attempt to bring change, there are certain things that don’t need changing. If it’s not broke, why fix it?
The farmer’s market, for example, has continued every Wednesday at the parking garage. This has been going strong, Zorojew said.
The trolley has returned for this summer, which adds a nice ambiance, he said. This was a new amenity last year. It’s got sponsors with ads on the side, and allows people to get around downtown easier. Hundreds of people used it last year.
A calendar of information and events can be found at downtowntomsriver.com/downtownshops/00home.php
The Township Council recently heard the budget for Downtown Toms River, which has three full time and two part time employees. The largest source of income for it is a special assessment on downtown businesses.
The “downtown” area, at least for the purposes of the business improvement district, is marked by the following boundaries: the south side of Rt.37 to the north, the river to the south, the Garden State Parkway to the west, and Hooper Avenue and then Hadley Avenue to the east.
The 2019 budget for the Downtown Toms River business improvement district is $462,825, an increase from last year’s $395,937.