TOMS RIVER – Nick Zorojew is a selfish guy. He’ll tell you himself, without apology.
He wants the best for his home town, Toms River. His family not only lived here, they worked here. And except for a stint away in college, Zorojew has called Toms River home for most of his life. He’s settled back after college in the South and grad school in New York City, just outside the bounds he’s drawn to describe Downtown Toms River—the Garden State Parkway to the west, Hooper and Hadley avenues to the east; Route 37 to the north and the river to the south—to make the downtown area a place he would want to visit, a place his children will want to stay and live.
Zorojew peddled his vision to Jeremy Grunin on WOBM two years ago, and his message has stayed consistent through today.
It seemed the sun hadn’t shone for weeks, although the clouds and some rain were probably only around for a few days before sunshine broke through that Tuesday morning. Zorojew picked a seat and cracked open a window before talking about the vision for Downtown Toms River.
“It’s a great morning for a trolley ride,” he said.
He chit-chatted with Craig, a trolley driver from Wildwood who stays in a hotel during the week to drive the new downtown trolley. It’s a little before 8 a.m., and the trolley is parked at the curb of the New Jersey Transit bus terminal on 400 Highland Parkway. Trolley drivers are hard to come by, and the test difficult to pass, but Great American Trolley Company of Cape May is looking for local drivers.
Zorojew, the executive director of Downtown Toms River, doesn’t know why a trolley hasn’t been part of the scene before, only that someone tried years ago but it never materialized. At this point, this trolley has been doing daily runs since May 26, less than two weeks from this meeting. Craig rattled off a list of towns in South Jersey that have trollies, and said he thinks the only other town in Ocean County that has a trolley is Point Pleasant Beach. They’ve had theirs since 2016; Zorojew and some other business improvement district decision makers visited that trolley, and thought it would be a nice addition to the offerings.
The trolley, which is ADA accessible, comes online at 8 a.m. at the bus terminal. On weekdays, Craig makes his loop from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekends, when some businesses stay open a little later for the weekend crowds. From the bus terminal, the trolley heads to Toms River Center (where Kohl’s is), then to town hall and the county library headquarters on Washington Street, then the Ocean County Parking Garage/Historical Society on Hadley Avenue, Huddy Park lot on Water Street, Main Street at the corner of Water Street, and then the Irons Street free parking lot before going back to the bus terminal. It’s about a 30-minute loop, depending on traffic and how times the trolley has to stop to pick up or drop off riders.
Guests can request drop offs, as long as it is safe for the trolley to stop and drop off people. They can also call the trolley driver and ask to be picked up along the route, again, as long as the trolley can safely stop and pick up guests. That number is 609-846-4064.
The trolley ride is free. The cost is absorbed by local business owners and other sponsors. Right now, the trolley will run through Labor Day.
“Without them, we could not do this,” Zorojew said about the sponsors.
But the trolley isn’t simply about going from Point A to Point B. Zorojew pointed out the obvious – the courthouse, the river, the Route 37 storefronts – but also pointed to and talked about things not obvious if you’re behind the wheel: the rows of old captain’s houses, the maritime museum, the Ocean County Historical Society, which later this summer may use the trolley for historical tours.
One also notices fewer and fewer empty storefronts. Like many downtown areas – Red Bank and Asbury Park in this area – Toms River is finding local, smaller entrepreneurs willing to rent a store front and make it their own. The area has a small but vibrant arts community as well. So while Zorojew isn’t comparing Toms River to those larger, reinvented downtowns, he is saying Toms River wants to take the best it sees in others.
“We want to find our own identity,” Zorojew said.
For more information, visit downtowntomsriver.com.