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The Record, Wednesday, March 1, 2000


Downtown Heights
adding a lure of green

By Clarisel Gonzalez Special to The Record
Staff Writer Alex Nussbaum contributed to this article.

Hasbrouck Heights -- Flower shop owner Ray Vorisek wants more energy on the Boulevard, more people walking up and down the street, more people visiting neighborhood shops.

This summer, the Hasbrouck Heights Chamber of Commerce hopes to satisfy his wish and those of other merchants with its first farmers’ market, one of several efforts the town hopes will liven up the main shopping drag.

The plan puts Hasbrouck Heights on the flourishing list on New Jersey communites that have decided sidewalk offerings of crisp string beans and fresh cilantro are a way to customers’ hearts.

Beginning June 20, Boulevard and Washington Place will be the site of a weekly open-air market of produce, including, of course, fresh New Jersey tomatoes.

Vorisek, owner of Heights Flower Shoppe on the Boulevard, said he is looking forward to the farmers’ market. Although his flowers, gifts, and gourmet baskets are selling well, he said the business district could use more shoppers.

"More excitement, that’s what we need," he said.

The farmers’ market will run from 2 to 7 p.m. on Tuesdays until October.

None of the proceeds will go to local businesses. But the Chamber of Commerce is encouraging merchants to offer sidewalk sales and discounts on market days.

Chamber President Vincent J. Kane, regional manager of another Boulevard business, the Bergen Commercial Bank, said the market will help a local economy that has grown stagnant in the last few years.

Kane hopes to draw shoppers from Hasbrouck Heights and surrounding towns. Residents will get another spot for fresh produce, said Thomas Meli, the market’s coordinator. Now the only other source is the single Shop Rite in town.

Vorisek plans to get into the homespun flavor of the affair. He will offer homegrown summer flowers during what he hopes becomes a tradition in town.

"Tuesdays will be a special day on the Boulevard," he said.

The added customers are just as important for New Jersey’s $1 billion agricultural industry. Growers are fighting a tide of sprawl that gobbles 10,000 acres of farmland each year, state figures show.

The chamber is working with the state Council of Farmers and Communities, a non-profit group that helps towns open farmers’ markets. Hasbrouck Heights will be one of 34 towns with markets this year, said Barbara Stevenson, the council’s vice president. Seven years ago, there were four.

"It’s a wonderful community event, and I think it’s profitable for the communities they are in," Stevenson said.

The council says the cucumbers, corn, and other produce sold at farmers’ markets be homegrown by local farmers and fresh on the day of the market. A council-hired inspector checks produce twice a season.

The markets have grown so popular that the council is running out of farmers to participate, Stevenson said. Hasbrouck Heights is one of the last approved for this year by the council and its 45 participating growers she said.

Indeed, with so many outlets for farmers, Meli said the biggest challenge for Hasbrouck Heights has been recruitment. Up to three farmers will be in town this summer. A farmer in Robbinsville in Mercer County has signed on.

Patty Terwilliger, a bank teller and longtime Hasbrouck Heights resident, said she thinks the Boulevard needs revitalizing.

"I love the idea of a farmers’ market here," said Terwilliger, who wants another spot to buy produce in town. "I like to buy fresh fruits and vegetables, and it will be convenient."

"The downtown is doing OK," Mayor William Torre said. "But it needs to be shined up a little bit." The borough is also exploring ways to beautify the downtown, such as new sidewalks, benches, and lighting, he said.

Meli hopes the market will be another piece of the puzzle. Like a backyard gardener looking at a plot buried under February snow, he is optimistic.

"Our biggest problem," he said, "will be if we jam up the Boulevard."

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