A first-of-its-kind program in New Jersey introduced by former Mayor John Ducey will continue under his successor.
The township council, with the endorsement of Mayor Lisa Crate, last week approved an extension to what has become known as the “Empty Storefront” initiative, which waives a number of costly fees for small businesses who move into existing storefronts that have been vacant for an extended period of time. The project was conceived after residents long expressed concern that businesses were often clearing lots to construct new facilities while existing spaces remained unoccupied in the township’s many shopping centers.
The program has been hailed as a success, with more than 30 new businesses having taken advantage of the program since it was first adopted in 2015. The ordinance introduced by the township council last week extends the program for another year – until Dec. 31, 2024.
“This really opens the door for our small business owners to get started,” said Crate. “As we talk to people throughout Brick, one of their priorities is to get these vacant buildings and storefronts filled before building new ones.”
Brick was the first town in New Jersey to come up with such an initiative, and officials had to obtain state approval at the time.
“I heard about the idea at a conference – a town in Illinois was doing it – and we started it in New Jersey,” said Ducey, at the time.
Under the program, the township waives permit and inspection fees if a business chooses to move into a location that has been vacant for more than a year and is 5,000 square feet or less in area.
Crate said the fees waived include business licenses, parking permit fees, traffic impact study fees, and building and planning fees.
“All of these fees fund important services, but during times of market uncertainty … they can be a barrier to the economic growth we terribly need right now,” she added.
“It’s well-known that the effects of Covid on small businesses can’t be denied,” said Councilwoman Marianna Pontoriero. “I saw many businesses, all over, have to close up shop. So I’m hoping this abstention of the fees, which can be significant, will encourage people to come back out – and I love to shop!”