Bordentown adapts to the recession

The economy in New Jersey is, without a doubt, struggling. With one of the worst recessions in recent memory, the state is attempting to adapt to the unstable economic climate in any way possible. The state senate recently proposed a bill to increase the minimum wage to $8.50 an hour. How this will effect the state is still unknown with some sides arguing it will help ease the economic tension and others arguing it will only cause businesses to inflate their prices to compensate for paying workers higher hourly wages.

Bordentown itself is not immune to the recession. According to City Data, the state’s unemployment rate is at 9.7% with Bordentown’s unemployment rate shortly under the state average at 9.5%. Bordentown’s retail trade makes up the second most common industry in the town. This begs the question, in the light of economic hardships, what does that mean for the average small business owner?

Adaption or extinction

The Record Collector in Bordentown is an example of how small businesses are attempting to take on more facets than just “retail” in order to maintain a steady business model.

Photo courtesy of the-record-collector.com

Photo courtesy of the-record-collector.com

Whereas record stores used to be able to only sell music and music related items with the recession and the plight of the vinyl record store at the hands of digital media, John Chrambanis has adapted his business to suit those seeking live entertainment as well as CDs or records by holding concert events in the store itself. The racks are all on moveable shelves to make room for a stage. Chrambanis hopes to expand his business even more so to create a small cafe setting where people can relax and listen to live music. Though he does not plan on investing money in a liquor license not only because they’re expensive but because of the way alcohol could alter the chilled out environment.

Chrambanis is only one example of ways businesses in Bordentown are trying to retrofit themselves into the overall feeling of hardship in the state.

photo courtesy of city-data.com

photo courtesy of city-data.com

April Sette, in charge of public relations for Downtown Bordentown (an association of local businesses) suggested that new businesses hoping for exposure get involved in the community. “Small business owners that get the most exposure,” said Sette, “are the ones that get involved in the community. If they take part in charity or a park project they get their name out there.” She suggested that it’s important to be active in a community because it reflects back on the small business. If a community is aware of business owner and their good deeds for the local community it helps garner new clientele and most important of all, according to Sette, “It’s free exposure.”

With all this in mind, the state small business sector has shown some hesitant signs of improvement. According to Charles Steindel, an ecomonist for New Jersey, the state’s recovery hasn’t been spectacular but it has been steady. Though according the state data jobs in the fields of manufacturing and construction has fell those in wholesale and retail trade as well as professional and business services have grown which indicates high hopes for Bordentown’s economic future it stays steady with the state average.

Below is an interactive Google map of some of the shops located along Farnsworth Avenue in Bordentown.

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John Chrambanis, owner of the Record Collector, talks about adapting to the ever evolving music industry

In the face of a rising digital era, many industries are being forced to choose between adaption or extinction. I spoke to John Chrambanis who owns The Record Collector,  a mom and pop record store located at 358 Farnsworth Avenue in Bordentown, New Jersey, about what it’s like to run a small new and used vinyl and CD business against the Goliath that is the 21st century music industry.

John Chambranis, owner of The Record Collector

What were you doing before The Record Collector?

We had a store in Morrisville and in Trenton so we’ve been doing this for almost 30 years.

Everything’s becoming increasingly digital. How are you dealing with that?

It’s a struggle but it’s more of a bigger picture than just digital. This industry is changing a lot. LPs, for example, are selling quite well even though people can buy stuff online because people that are fans of a band don’t mind having something to actually hold. There’s a real niche market for vinyl.

Many modern artists or bands have gotten more electronic like Katy Perry or MGMT. Does that sound transfer well into that type of vinyl sound?

That’s personal taste. I think that the younger people who are buying albums now, what I hear over and over again, is that they’ll take them home and actually have something like an album party. That’s kind of the way it was years ago.Of course there is the convenience of just downloading and sometimes it’s just an expense thing.

But to listen to an album from beginning to end a way the artist wanted it, that’s a whole different thing. Lots of time music ends up being background noise. If you do end up buying an album, going home and listening to it from beginning to end – who really has time to do that? But the small amount that do enjoy it.

Do you get new LPs from new bands?

Yeah. Green Day’s new album is coming out. Mumford & Sons is doing very well. Katy Perry and Lady Gaga, when they came out on LP, did good. This is the time of year that all of the new stuff starts coming out. The Cult came out, Florence + The Machine, The Shins, Pearl Jam, Metallica.

I think my first experience with a new artist on vinyl was Joanna Newsom’s album The Milk-Eyed Mender and it sounded amazing, much better than the digital copy I had and I don’t think a lot of people realize that there is a huge difference in sound.

Yeah, it depends on the system. If you have a really good system the album’s gonna sound better, it’s just the nature of it.

But what we’re doing, as far as moving into the future, we’re doing live bands here. And that brings us to a whole other level because as the future is always uncertain people still have the desire to go out and socialize and one way to do that is to go to a place that has live music. We’re moving in the direction where we’ll probably do music in a little cafe type of thing.

All of the racks in the store are on moveable wheels so they can be pushed aside for live music events.

The floor of the Record Collector

I stayed and spoke with Chrambanis a little more, mostly about music, like his love for jazz and all of the well-known people who’ve stopped by the store like Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth and Henry Rollins from Black Flag. I myself bought the new Florence + The Machine album on LP, went home, and immediately listened to it on my record player. It is true, there’s nothing like holding a solid record, admiring the album artwork that most bands or artists add in specifically for the LP and hearing the crisp sound that can only be produced by vinyl.

Farnsworth Avenue is astir as thousands gather for the annual Bordentown Cranberry Festival

Farnsworth Avenue, the main road that runs through Bordentown City, has been blocked off completely as thousands of people gather in the streets to sample the crafts and food the annual Ocean Spray Cranberry Festival vendors have to offer.

Cranberry Festival entrance

“It’s [The Cranberry Festival] one of the only juried crafts shows in New Jersey,” explained April Sette, head of public relations for Downtown Bordentown, “and by that each of these artisans have to submit in their pieces and pictures and they have to be approved by a board in order to participate.”

Sun River Arts, maker of women’s jewelry

“If you walk down you’ll see everything’s handmade. We do food, we do Jersey fresh wines, and the crafts are all handmade,” said Sette.

Bordentown Guitar Rescue displays a variety of handmade or repaired guitars by luthier Micheal Virok.

The items that line Farnsworth Avenue being sold by vendors range from jewelry, to clothes, to wines, to homemade sauces and soaps, to country style home decor, to baked treats for pets, as well as a wide variety of other merchandise that appeal to anyone who is interested in unique handmade items.

Woodchuck Wood Designs’ wine holders are designed to ergonomically stand when balanced with a wine bottle.

For those not interested in shopping the festival also offers plenty of options for food as well as a corner for kids where they can make crafts, get their faces painted, or take a pony ride. Charities also line the street in the hopes to fund their programs such as adoptions through Bordentown City Cats and the Spc. Benjamin G. Moore Education Scholarship that helps raise money for those graduating high school who wish to become firefighters or EMTs.

Spc. Benjamin Moore Education Scholarship fundraising tent.

A car show can be seen on the way into the festival as well and live music can be heard playing throughout the day.

Antique cars line up for those interested in their outsides as well as what’s under their hoods.

Jackie Reed and Patti Desantis have lived in Bordentown their whole lives and are the two women responsible for organizing the Cranberry Festival. Reed has been integral to the planning of the event since its beginnings 23 years ago.

“Three of us ladies that had businesses here were sitting in one of our friend’s homes drinking wine and trying to figure out how we could get more people to come to Bordentown to shop,” said Reed, “and since Ocean Spray was the biggest business here everybody wanted to emulate them.”

Ocean Spray had been, up until recently, located in Bordentown City but with its recent upheaval and relocation many questioned whether or not the festival would continue.

“Absolutely,” said Desantis, “there will still be a Cranberry Festival.”

The Cranberry Festival continues tomorrow from 11am to 5pm.