HAMMONTON _ Hammonton joins Beaufort, S.C., and six other towns as semi-finalists for this year’s Great American Main Street Award, said MainStreet Hammonton Executive Director Cassie Iacovelli.

The award from the National Main Street Center is based on a community’s revitalization efforts. It recognizes economic impact, small business development, historic preservation, volunteer involvement, and success over time.

“We’re in the top eight in the country,” said MainStreet Hammonton President Benjamin Ott, who runs the Edward Jones investment firm in Hammonton. He said the application for the award required a presentation in great detail about “all the things we’ve done, the organization, the history and progress we’ve made.”

Ott said only one town in New Jersey has ever won the award, and that was Westfield, Bergen County, in 2004.

He credited Jim Donio, president of the Eagle Theatre; and Linda Cashan, owner of Casciano Coffee Bar and Sweetery, with leading the effort as volunteers.

The 20-year-old nonprofit MainStreet Hammonton has been working for many years to bring small businesses into downtown Hammonton. Since 2011, it has also been helping business owners improve storefront facades with the help of grants from New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Co., which provides half of the cost of improvements.

The group relies heavily on volunteers in the community, and ongoing support from many local businesses, Iacovelli said.

Iacovelli, who has been leading the group for five years, spent 28 years in college administration. She was Assistant Dean of Campus Life at Rider University in Lawrenceville, Mercer County, before joining MainStreet Hammonton, she said.

She uses many of the same skills in the MainStreet job, she said.

“Instead of helping creating a college’s life, I’m helping create a town’s life. I worked with student leaders who were volunteers, and I work with volunteers here,” Iacovelli said.

The town has brought in about 40 new businesses since she started, Iacovelli said.

“We lose about eight a year, but we’re always replacing them with 12-13 a year,” she said. “We’re always gaining.”

Last year was a little tougher, with ten new businesses coming in and 11 leaving, but several new businesses, like Yoga Nine on Bellevue, have already opened in 2013 or plan to open in the first quarter.

Iacovelli grew up in Berlin, Camden County, and moved to Hammonton when husband John Iacovelli became Dean of Enrollment at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, she said.

In both jobs she needed a budget and a vision, to develop a sense of community, she said.

One big difference is staffing levels. At Rider she had three secretaries and a professional staff of up to 12 people working under her.

“Here, it’s just me and the volunteers,” she said. She has had to learn to do her own typing and handle computers.

“My staff at Rider think it’s a riot,” she said.

The other semi-finalists are Bastrop, Texas; Beaufort, South Carolina; Bedford, Pennsylvania; Bristol, Tenn; Charleston East End, West Virginia; Harrisonburg, Virginia; and Rochester, Michigan. Three will be selected as finalists by the end of February, and winners will be recognized at the National Main Streets Conference in April in New Orleans, La.

Contact Iacovelli at 609-567-9014 or at mainstreethammonton@ymail.com.

Contact Michelle Brunetti Post:

609-272-7219