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Scotch Plains Mayor Credits Business and Professional Association With Rebuilding Downtown 97mar27

Mayor Irene T. Schmidt was the guest speaker last Friday at the Scotch Plains Business and Professional Association’s annual dinner dance at Snuffy’s Pantagis. In her address, Mrs. Schmidt thanked the association for the opportunity to speak at the event, which benefits the organization’s Downtown Beautification Program, although she likened it to "preaching to the choir" in terms of the organization’s proven dedication to the community.

"You are here tonight because you have already made a commitment. A commitment to play a major role in our proud community of involved people," the Mayor told an audience of nearly 60 people. "Your role is unique because you are planning and rebuilding a major part of community life in Scotch Plains, and also protecting your livelihood."

Recalling the era before shopping malls, the Mayor noted that "small downtowns were the community centers around which people structured their lives, interacted with neighbors and established the quality of life to which they aspired." She added that even today "downtowns are often the environment in which you earn your living and provide essential goods and services to your neighbors.

"If there is a perceived crisis in downtowns today, it stems from the fact that the original downtown centers developed around the horse and pedestrian," the Mayor explained.

"Shopping malls and strip malls developed around the automobile. As we became more mobile, we drifted away from our hometown/downtown roots. We were drawn to the car, to the highway and to the mall," she continued.

Mrs. Schmidt told how, when she was a young mother in Scotch Plains, the family only had one car, so she depended on the stores in her local downtown to provide her with the things she needed. She recalled how she shopped for all her children’s clothes at the Stork Fair on Park Avenue, where she said she enjoyed the "personal service" as well as the availability of high-quality merchandise.

She reminisced about how once, when she was living in Fanwood, the assistant to the owner of Stork Fair came to her home with a selection of three raincoats when her daughter, Francie, didn’t have a raincoat to wear to school and Mrs. Schmidt did not have a car to get to the store. The assistant, Dennis Pedicini, and his mother later became the owners of the store.

"We know what life has become as a result of malls," the Mayor commented. "We have also seen the evolution in our thinking and way of life. Women who previously might have been entranced by the huge variety of goods in malls and who may at some point in their lives stayed at home, probably enjoyed a day out at the mall."

She maintained, however, that the perception of malls has changed as shopping centers have become "massive, impersonal and traffic clogged." She also noted that "women do not have time today. They value their personal time and do not find malls stimulating or desirable."

Invoking Yankee baseball legend Yogi Berra’s phrase that "it’s so crowded, nobody goes there anymore," the Mayor remarked that people are now looking for ways in which to simplify their busy lives. She said people "want to shop in a friendly atmosphere where they can purchase their needs without the necessity of an all-day ‘outing.’

"You can key in this idea with the emphasis on health and exercise in our lives," Mrs. Schmidt observed. "Most people would rather spend their personal time playing golf, biking or participating in their children’s sport. They need a pleasant place to shop."

She described the downtown as "the heart of the community" which needs to be planned and nurtured.

"An active and thriving central business district creates a source of community pride, creates a positive identity and a sense of place, while supporting local property values," the Mayor said. "However, to accomplish this, we will need an active partnership, representing concerned citizens and local government and most of all, you, business owners and property owners.

"I am so proud of the dedication and energy which is being generated by the Business and Professional Association," Mrs. Schmidt continued. "You have had a vision and determination to work together in accomplishing more in a few short years than has been accomplished over the last 25 years or more."

The Mayor, who argued that "small, quaint towns" are now being favored over the congested environment of malls, reported that the first meeting of Scotch Plains’ Downtown Development Committee went "very well." Among the key points highlighted by the meeting, Mrs. Schmidt said, was that service is the competitive edge. She said that the committee’s major goals include physical revitalization of the township, as well as marketing and streetscape improvements.

"My personal goals are to better manage the traffic through our main street. I have already expressed my concerns to Police Chief Thomas O’Brien and he has responded in a very positive manner as to the work that the department is planning in conjunction with the county to help with the traffic problem," Mrs. Schmidt explained.

The Mayor said she has arranged for Scotch Plains to join Downtown New Jersey, a networking of small downtowns, and has spoken to the Mayor of Watchung and a Councilman from North Plainfield concerning the prospect of regional meetings with the county, "so that we can have a unified voice before the Department of Transportation with regard to the mediation of the serious traffic generated through our towns as a result of the Route No. 22 expansion and some of the expansion in Berkeley Heights.

"We are not against development," she emphasized. "We do, however, have to make our concerns known regarding the traffic problem."

The Mayor reported that she will be "working hard" to achieve buried underground utilities and to provide attractive street lamps. "I will be needing your help here," she said. "Some ideas here could incorporate signage which would be easily visible from the street."

She said she intends to work with the Downtown Development Committee and the governing body "to achieve adequate and efficient parking."

Mrs. Schmidt wrapped up her speech by reiterating the importance of personal attention which customers enjoy in their local downtown. The Mayor described how several weeks ago, she and her granddaughter, Jennifer, participated with the Girl Scouts in Purple Ribbon Day, during which youngsters adorned the township with purple ribbons as a way to promote awareness of the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse.

Along their route on East Second Street, Mrs. Schmidt said she and the Girl Scouts came upon Seymour’s Antiques. When the proprietor, Seymour Stein, learned what the children were doing for the township, he brought out a basket of assorted old and decorated thimbles as presents for the girls.

"I am certain many of the young ladies had no idea what a thimble was used for but they were so delighted to be presented with such a lovely little surprise. I know Jennifer was quite intrigued with her gift and we had to go home and immediately find a sewing project which kept her busy for some time.

"You don’t find this kind of kindness at a mall," she concluded.

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