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Local
Thrift stores continue to thrive amid chain store closings

As the retail industry watches national stores close one by one and customers look to stretch their dollar, secondhand stores are finding their niche in the market.

In the past year, South Jersey has seen its share of store closings, such as Sears and JCPenney at the Hamilton Mall in Mays Landing, while other national chains, such as Charlotte Russe and Forever 21, have filed for bankruptcy.

Local secondhand shops, though, have no plans of slowing down and are even expanding their stores and merchandise.

“They still want department store stuff, but at a thrift store price,” said Irv Singer, manager of The Arc Makes Cents, Too! in Egg Harbor Township.

Black Friday crowds build at Hamilton Mall

MAYS LANDING — Tabitha DeLuca was at the Hamilton Mall for its 6 a.m. opening Friday, ready to fight through crowds to get deals, a tradition she’s stuck to for years.

The shop in the English Creek Shopping Center opened in September after it outgrew its former location in Northfield. At 10,000 square feet, the store now offers new mattresses, pillows and sheets and new clothing and accessories from home shopping networks, as well as gently used items donated to the store.

“We’re really more of a thrift store plus,” Singer said.

Scott Hennis, CEO of The Arc of Atlantic County, said thrift stores are filling a gap in the retail market for two reasons.

“Just because a person is in a place where they might not have as many resources as another doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have access to quality clothing,” he said.

They also allow customers and donors to give back to the community, he said.

Analysts say thrift stores are popular among millennials, those born between 1981 and 1996, and Gen Z, those born between 1996 and 2015.

“Millennials are the first generation whose income is projected to be lower than their parents and grandparents,” said Deborah Figart, professor of economics at Stockton University. “They have high levels of debt for a younger generation that previous generations didn’t have because of student loans and higher car payments. They have to make their income stretch as much as they can.”

She added that even though customers may not find exactly what they’re looking for in a secondhand shop, there’s still opportunity to find great items marked down to a low price.

“Thrift stores provide an opportunity to households to stretch their (limited) dollars further,” she said. “Unfortunately, shopping at thrift stores and dollar stores may limit the choice of products.”

Singer said younger adults have a growing interest in vintage clothing.

“Through shopper surveys that we’ve done, the customer is becoming younger, and I’m seeing a much younger customer coming in here,” he said. “We’ve had an awful lot of students over here from Stockton.”

Much like larger retail chains, thrift stores are still trying to co-exist with online shopping.

“It takes five minutes to click some buttons to have Macy’s deliver to you,” Figart said.

She said online sales could work for secondhand shops if they’re able to stock certain items.

Singer said The Arc’s thrift store would have a difficult time offering online shopping due to the challenge of stocking multiples of the same product, but a consignment shop in Northfield seems to have found the secret recipe.

Sonya and Frank Pacera, owners of Next Generation Exchange on Tilton Road, offer both used and new items on their website to reach a larger customer base.

“That’s a big part of the shopping industry,” Frank Pacera said. “If you don’t adapt to those changes, you’re not going to be successful.”

Aside from offering gently used items in store, Next Generation offers new accessories and gift items made by local artisans. The new merchandise was added during last year’s holiday season and makes up about 25% of the store, Pacera said.

“There are a lot of people that are coming in here that are looking for gift items,” Pacera said. “We’ve become very popular in that area.”

He said the store will always have to compete with big-box chains, but the difference is a locally owned shop offers a heightened level of customer service.

“The resale industry is expanding tremendously,” he said. “The new stuff really helps get more traffic in the store to create that environment where it’s not just a consignment store, it’s become a whole lot more.”

PHOTOS from Black Friday 2018 in South Jersey

Real_estate
Atlantic City to auction 194 properties in December

ATLANTIC CITY — In an effort to get city-owned properties back on the tax rolls and replenish a depleted ratable base, an auction for 194 available lots will be held in the coming weeks.

Max Spann Real Estate and Auction Co. will perform the public auction 11 a.m. Dec. 17 at the Atlantic City Convention Center. Two information sessions for interested or prospective buyers will be held noon to 2 p.m. Dec. 4 and 12 in Council Chambers on the second floor of City Hall.

The auction includes commercial lots, townhomes, duplex and single-family homes, according to the list of available properties provided by the city.

“We are enthusiastic to bring such a variety of properties to market,” said Bob Dann, CEO and lead auctioneer for Max Spann.

Dann said there are waterfront lots available for marine businesses and “residential lots ready for a boat.”

In 2010, the city had more than $20 billion in property value, according to state data. In 2016, when the state assumed fiscal oversight of Atlantic City, the taxable base had shrunk to $6.5 billion. Last year, the city had less than $2.9 billion in property value, after the casinos were removed from the ratable base with the start of the payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, program in 2017.

That figure is down to $2.5 billion for Atlantic City in 2019.

After a property-tax increase caught residents and business owners by surprise this summer, Mayor Marty Small Sr. said increasing the city’s ratable base and bringing in additional revenue were his top priorities. By putting city-owned properties that currently pay no taxes back on the tax rolls, Small and other city officials are hopeful it will provide some relief to overburdened taxpayers.

Small, who as council president hosted several real estate tours and coordinated with investment groups to hold seminars in the city, said “investor confidence is high” right now and officials are looking forward to “further developing Atlantic City.”

“We are on the move, and I am excited about all the good things happening in the city,” Small said. “This (auction) gives us a chance to add a revenue stream with an eye on future tax relief for our taxpayers.”

The upcoming auction will be the fifth hosted by the city. In July, an auction netted the city nearly $1.7 million from the sale of municipal-owned lots.

A complete list and interactive map of available properties can be found at maxspann.com.

GALLERY: Kelsey's shares Thanksgiving dinner with the community

Politics
Testa says no to boardwalk repair bill, Sweeney says he'll reintroduce it

State Sen.-elect Mike Testa Jr. does not support a bill sponsored by his predecessor to fund boardwalk repairs through the state Transportation Trust Fund.

“At no point was the Transportation Trust Fund’s purpose ever to fund boardwalk repairs,” said Testa, who will be sworn in Thursday as the new state senator for the 1st District. “This legislation will only increase taxes on residents who live in the highest tax-burdened state in the nation.”

The fund is generated through the state’s gasoline tax.

Bill proposes new funding source for Wildwood Boardwalk and others

WILDWOOD — State legislators announced Tuesday a bill to include boardwalks in the state’s definition of public highways so New Jersey Transportation Trust Fund money can be used to rebuild the crumbling older structures, including in this Cape May County town where special Boardwalk funding recently was denied by the governor.

State Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Salem, Gloucester, Cumberland, will sponsor and reintroduce the bill in the next legislative session, said Sweeney’s spokesman Richard McGrath.

State Sen. Bob Andrzejczak, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, introduced the bill, S-4168, this month after announcing it in September. The measure was intended in part to help Wildwood replace its aging Boardwalk.

But Andrzejczak lost his bid for re-election Nov. 5, along with his running mates Assemblymen Bruce Land and Matt Milam.

No Assembly version of the bill has been introduced.

In contrast to Testa, state Sen. Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, said he will work with Democrats to get the bill passed.

“Since the bill would have to be reintroduced for the 2020-21 session, I will look to sponsor it with my colleagues from both sides of the aisle,” Brown said.

The bill would provide a funding stream for all boardwalks in New Jersey.

The Atlantic City Boardwalk, in Brown’s district, is estimated to need $50 million in structural repairs.

Both the Republican and Democratic candidates for Assembly in Brown’s 2nd Legislative District supported the bill in a debate at Stockton University in October.

Incumbent Assemblymen Vince Mazzeo and John Armato, D-Atlantic, won a tight election this month.

“Yes, it’s a good idea. Our beaches and Boardwalk are one of our biggest assets,” Mazzeo said. “We could get legislators behind it for all boardwalks up and down New Jersey.”

Andrzejczak, Land and Milam had previously sponsored a bill to give a $4 million special appropriation every year for 15 years to Wildwood to replace its Boardwalk.

That earlier bill was passed by the Legislature but vetoed by Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy, who questioned its constitutionality.

Testa said Murphy’s veto of the bill, which would have fully funded the Wildwood Boardwalk repairs, shows “South Jersey continues to be neglected by the Murphy administration.”

Murphy’s veto was widely viewed as punishing Andrzejczak for being part of a South Jersey Democratic coalition that is in a feud with Murphy, led by Sweeney and Camden power broker George Norcross.

Sweeney visited Wildwood in September with state legislators and Mayor Ernie Troiano to showcase the poor condition of the Boardwalk and to promote the bill.

Troiano and the 1st District legislators were all swept out of office Nov. 5.

GALLERY: Roar to the Shore Wildwood

Crime
South Jersey police grow beards to support local sergeant's family

MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — “A year ago, I never would have imagined my family in the position it’s in,” township police Sgt. Mark Higginbottom said Wednesday morning. “Never in 1 million years do you expect to go through something like that.”

Higginbottom’s wife, Jennifer, was diagnosed with breast cancer in July and is undergoing chemotherapy, he said.

To support the family, which includes the couple’s two young children, while Jennifer is out of work and receiving treatment, several local law enforcement agencies have stepped in to raise funds by growing beards.

No-Shave November, a national movement, asks participants to forego shaving for the month and instead donate the money they would use on grooming products to cancer research.

In South Jersey, police departments, which traditionally have strict rules regarding facial hair, have modified the campaign to benefit local families in need.

Higginbottom, who’s growing out a beard himself, said he’s been a participant in the fundraiser for several years, but he only found out right as the month began that several departments had pledged their donations to his family.

“At the end of the day, it makes it easier to focus your energy where it needs to be focused,” he said, adding he feels comforted, blessed, loved and supported by the officers’ efforts.

Donations are being accepted through Saturday, after which the Cape May County Chiefs of Police Association will put the donations together for the family.

For the members of law enforcement participating, it’s much more than breaking the rules to raise funds. It’s a way to help out a member of the community while improving police and resident relations.

Lower Township police Patrolman Jason Felsing said he takes whatever opportunity he can to grow out his beard, since the grooming guidelines in the department allow only a short mustache. But it also makes him more approachable when he’s on the job.

“Any type of call you go on, 50% of the time you get comments,” he said. “It makes you more accessible to various age groups.”

Lower Township police Lt. Donald Vanaman said facial hair makes them more relatable to residents, which helps build relationships and trust in the community.

“I think it humanizes us,” Vanaman said. “When I was growing up, as a kid, (police officers) looked enormous because they all have these hats on. Looking back, police officers were feared and kind of unapproachable. We want to be approachable.”

The fundraiser is also a chance to show how connected law enforcement agencies are, especially when it comes to helping one of their own, Felsing said.

“I think it brings up the unity in law enforcement that you might not see every day,” he said, explaining that although departments might not work together often, they’re still bonded over the responsibilities of the job. “So to be able to help a family member that you don’t see all the time, it’s refreshing and nice.”

In addition, Vanaman said the fundraiser is a boost to morale for the officers.

“You deal with so much of the tough stuff. It’s nice to be involved in the positive,” he said. “It helps their resiliency and brings balance to a tough job.”

Recently, Jennifer started going back to work on a day-by-day basis, Higginbottom said.

“We’re optimistic, based on what we’re told by the doctors, that she’ll be a survivor of breast cancer,” he said. “We’re very appreciative of all the support through our community and law enforcement family from Day One. It’s been very humbling for me and my family.”