A dozen years ago the nation was brought low by a severe recession. Casino closings in this area sent it even deeper, into a local depression.
Businesses shut, many people left, and the rest — including local governments — struggled for years to make do with much less money.
At that worst of recent times, legendary retailer Albert Boscov approached Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson “with his hat in hand,” asking for the financial backing needed to keep open the chain’s big department store in Egg Harbor Township. With hundreds of jobs and a popular shore shopping destination at stake, Levinson got a majority of freeholders to agree to guarantee $1 million of a $3 million federal HUD loan to Boscov’s.
A direct request to state and local governments for backing is unusual, but the county wasn’t alone in signing on. Vineland, the state of New Jersey and six counties in Pennsylvania also guaranteed part of the financing that Boscov’s needed to restructure under Chapter 11. Boscov and brother-in-law Edward Lakin came out of retirement and put up their own money as well to rescue the company with a $300 million refinancing package.
We backed the county’s support at the time, not only for the above reasons. Al Boscov also had been this newspaper’s first recipient of its award for business leaders who give back to their communities (then, in 1995, called the Bailey Award). The company has a long track record of supporting local organizations.
This month, Boscov’s made the final payment on that 10-year loan. During that time, the company has celebrated its 100th anniversary (in 2014) and Al Boscov has passed away.
His nephew Jim Boscov, who followed his uncle as chairman of the company, thanked Atlantic County, the store’s employees and its loyal shoppers for making it possible to keep open its top-performing location.
In hindsight, the county’s action looks brilliant.
The Boscov’s at Harbor Square is thriving, while the other major stores of the former Shore Mall are gone. The adjacent Garden State Parkway exit makes the store convenient to drivers south and north, the Black Horse Pike goes directly to the barrier islands and residents to the west. The location hasn’t seen this level of success since it hosted another wide-ranging department store, Steinbach, years ago.
Now the chain is growing, having added three stores in central New Jersey and one in Connecticut, and its 49th store is scheduled to open in Rhode Island next month.
Atlantic County put up no money to help Boscov’s. It did the equivalent of co-signing its loan, promising that if the company defaulted it would cover the payments with funds from its federal Community Development Block Grant.
Helping save the store with no money down and not even any payments must be the best Boscov’s deal ever.