May 10th, 2023

First-Ever ‘Store Next Door’ Open House Exceeds Expectations

Paul Grenier

Monday, April 10, some two hundred Long Branch residents, including a great many families, crowded into the Oak View Elementary School cafeteria to get to know local store and restaurant owners at the first-ever open house of this kind in the Long Branch area.

The turnout exceeded, and by a wide margin, the expectations of the organizers.

“It was totally impressive,” said local entrepreneur Rosemary Wilson, referring to the number of attendees. The turnout, she added, “is a true testament to what this community wants to continue supporting.”

Billed ‘The Store Next Door’ open house, the event offered participants a free dinner provided by local restaurants (El GolfoEl GavilanLa CasitaMansa Kunda and Hola Chicken, to be precise) and free flowers from Roxana Floral shop.

Attendees were delighted to discover several relative newcomers to the Long Branch culinary scene. “Hola Chicken’s Peruvian burrito is my favorite new discovery!” gushed Stefan Gehrman. “It’s delicious — definitely a meal in itself.”

Several attendees said that they hadn’t even known about the African restaurant Mansa Kunda on Flower Ave., but noted, after having sampled its unique dishes at the event, that they would definitely be visiting it in the future.

Children were offered — only on the condition, it is to be hoped, of having first finished eating their salads — cotton candy, and were also provided with other entertainment, such as face painting, over-sized wooden blocks to play with, and an arts and crafts corner.

The event went beyond fun and games, however.  The Long Branch Business League and MHP – the two co-organizers of the open house – lined a wall of the cafeteria with questions mounted on oversized posters so as to gather feedback from participants about the commercial district. 

This polling via poster was meant to provide feedback helpful to everyone from store and commercial property owners to County politicians and planners.  The results indeed proved interesting.

Asked which additional amenities and/or programming would attract them to visit local businesses more often, a large majority chose the option: ‘a comfortable atmosphere (art, furniture, Wifi).’  Events, especially in-restaurant events, was the second most popular choice.

A closely related question asked visitors what would do the most to encourage their patronage and were asked to choose from among twelve different options covering everything from store layout and cleanliness to security and outdoor seating. 

The top vote getter, and by a considerable margin, was outdoor seating.  Other big vote-getters included: store cleanliness, store-front attractiveness, more varied options (i.e. of cuisines and retail offerings) as well as an improved feeling of safety.

MHP staff at the event engaged participants in the poster session to gather additional feedback, for example, regarding how best to improve their sense of safety in the commercial district.  Several respondents stressed that they would like to see crosswalks improved, and in general to see a more predictable movement of cars and pedestrians through the area – with the walkers walking faster, and the drivers driving a lot slower.

Another surprising result was the large preponderance of respondents who said they most often visited Long Branch by foot.  To be sure, many also responded that they travel to Long Branch by car. 

Assessing the event several days later, Long Branch Business League president John Angel said he would like to see the Open House become an annual activity, but at the same time to let it evolve.

“I’d like to sit down with people next January (in 2024), and include both people from the neighborhood and from local organizations, like the TESS Center, and start seeing how we can work together in specific ways,” Angel said.