When it comes to businesses in Howell, there are plenty for residents to choose from, but there are also several shopping centers with noticeable vacancies from companies that had been there at one time.
Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Sue Dominguez said her organization looks to help its members not only promote their own businesses, but also to bring new ones into the town. "Our goal is to say you don't need to leave Howell to do your shopping," she said. "You can get it all done right here."
Another person charged with helping make that vision a reality is George Krebs, who serves as the chairman of the chamber's business development committee. He said his committee helps to work to bring the chamber and the township administration together.
Dominguez said when it comes to business in the town, she is particularly encouraged by the fact that there are several new ones ready to open their doors in the future. Among others is a new Japanese restaurant to open in the Aldrich Plaza, a barbecue restaurant on Route 9 South near and a Papa Johns establishment just down the road.
She added that when it comes to a major roadway like Route 9, she is glad to see business picking up. That, she said, benefits not only the residents of Howell but also people from out of town who have a reason to shop inside the township's borders. "The nice thing for me is to see some of what they call the 'grey areas,' or existing strip malls being refilled before you see more building going on," she said. "We have all this other existing space that people should really take advantage of and fill."
The township, she said, has seen a lot of changes over the years. Some for the better, and some for the worse as a result of the tough economic times. "I think we had this burst where everybody built, built, built," she said. She pointed to a time roughly 13 years ago when the was built on Route 9 and three years later when the was under construction as the peak of expansion in the township.
That area, has become one part of town that is as close as Howell has to a downtown area, she said. She also pointed to the Quail Creek Shopping Center as another gathering place for residents. But with no true downtown area, Dominguez said that presents a challenge in itself. "Even if you want to try and do something where you really bring the community out, where do you bring them?" she said.
She added she was hopeful the efforts being undertaken at the former Southard School where the is working will help in that process. It should also help that Southard is located across the street from the , where they hold several events including popular nights during the summer.
It is also not realistic to characterize the Route 9 corridor as a cohesive single entity. The southernmost part of the road near the Lakewood border consists of lots of smaller stores and some of the older establishments such as the . That part of the strip extends up to the Kent Road area where the bigger box stores like Kohl's and Lowe's are more prevalent. There are then more shops from Aldrich Road north to Strickland and the Freehold border that offer a variety of services including and a .
Dominguez said it is important for the township to have areas to attract other people to shop in Howell to help the economy. "You have to have something in Howell that makes others want to come in," she said. Pointing to places like , Dominguez said such a business not only helps itself, but others in Howell, as well. "That brings people in from all over, which then helps all of your smaller businesses," she said.
Another location which she said could help bring people to Howell is the expansion that is under way at the on Route 9 South. "I think if it's anything like the one in Freehold it can only help the area down there to really be a place that people want to go to," she said.
One big question that has come up in the town recently is the possible expansion of the commercial area to the more rural areas of Route 33. Dominguez said she is in favor of that idea, but knows it will not be an easy goal to accomplish. With no sewer system in that area, having businesses out there will not be an simple task.
And bringing the sewer system to that part of town presents its own set of challenges. "I would love to see Route 33 with some medical facilities," she said. "It could really draw people in from all different areas." But with wetlands issues and no starting point for the system, there will be a lot more work before residents see any change in that part of town.
Krebs said expansion to Route 33 and other parts of route 9 can be beneficial to the township as it will add to the commercial and industrial tax base. He said Howell is at around 11 percent in that department whereas neighboring towns like Wall and Freehold are at around 22 percent. "You can see that we're kind of behind the curve on industrial commercial ratables," he said.
The Route 33 corridor is also an example of another problem businesses face in the shear sprawl of the township. Getting from the Ramtown section of town to the part of Route 33 where The Cabin is located is not always an easy task and residents may not want to deal with the traffic that can come with going from from one part of the town to another.
Dominguez also said some businesses suffer from not having a Howell mailing address. While most residents and companies have a Howell mailing address, others have their mail sent through Freehold, Farmingdale and even the small Adelphia post office. "If you could get Howell to have one zip code, that would be amazing," she said.
With each challenge they come upon, Dominguez said the chamber and its members make the most of them to keep moving forward. "You certainly can't change them overnight and some of them you can't change," she said. "You try and find the best ways to work with the ones you can."
When it comes to solving these problems, Dominguez said the chamber has received a lot of help from the township administration. "The township officials work really well with the chamber," she said. "We really try and support one another's efforts."
Krebs said with a closer relationship more has been accomplished recently than it had been in the past. "After all these years we're finally talking and everybody's talking to one another and we find out there's a lot of common ground," he said.
Having the township's focus on residents, and the chamber working with local businesses, Dominguez said the exchange of information can be invaluable. I might hear of a complaint from a business, but the town doesn't hear it and they're the ones that can really help to make a change," she said. "We have to make sure that we verbalize to the town what we're hearing from the businesses."
With everyone working together, Dominguez said she believes the township will be able to work through the economic issues and thrive, benefitting not only the residents but the area as a whole.