GALLOWAY – Mike Simkin moved his Simkin's Martial Arts studio to Smithville Square on Route 9 in July.
In business since 1998, he has been operating in Galloway since 2000.
Moving into the once-blighted shopping plaza was a bit risky, he said, flicking on the lights of the 2,200-square-foot studio and getting ready to start his day Monday morning, Feb. 6.
Simkin, who lives in Egg Harbor Township and is a married father of five, was already established at the Galloway Village Square on Pitney Road. But he liked what Smithville Square developer Harvey Rosenblatt of P3RE Properties had to offer, and is optimistic about the future of his business there.
“When I first came here the shopping center looked horrible,” Simkin said. “Storefronts were empty. He’s given people a reason to come here. He’s doing a lot to try and help everybody.”
Rosenblatt, a 32-year-old developer from Ocean County, appears to be succeeding where a revolving door of landlords failed: attracting quality businesses, promoting the center, and giving people a reason to shop there.
“We had a plan. We saw a depressed shopping center, and we saw we could perform there,” Rosenblatt said Tuesday, Feb. 7. “We said we will help create a product.”
The shopping center opened back in the 1980s and changed hands in 1997, 2007, 2010 and 2012. Rosenblatt bought it in March 2016.
That was less than a year ago. Since then the 107,943-square-foot strip mall has gotten a new stone and brick facade, LED lighting, landscaping, improvements to the parking lot and other upgrades, and businesses are responding to the transformation.
“It was finished without a question of ‘Let’s get by,” Rosenblatt said. “If it works for the tenants, then it will work for us.”
The renovations are about 95 percent complete. Fourteen storefronts are filled, and about eight more – plus the vacant former supermarket – are available for rent.
Rosenblatt said he recently signed four new tenants. With quality businesses and upgrades to the exterior, the shopping center is becoming an inviting place for shoppers driving down Route 9, he said, and tenants are just starting to see increased traffic.
Without a supermarket, JD’s Pub & Grille continues to be the anchor. Smitty’s Liquors signed a new 10-year lease last year, and with recent additions including the martial arts studio, Dollar General and Smithville Eats, which opened last month, things are moving in a positive way, Rosenblatt said.
Dunkin' Donuts is set to open Feb. 19, complete with a drive-through.
“It will bring more people to the shopping center and ultimately bring more stores in here,” Simkin said. “Parents can grab a cup of coffee while they wait for their kids.”
Rosenblatt is staying true to his word, Simkin said.
“Harvey really seems to be turning this shopping center around. He has a certain objective, and he wants everyone to benefit,” he said.
Elizabeth Kurban, who lives in Galloway and manages Smithville Eats, which opened last month, said business has been "amazing." Four Seasons residents have really taken advantage of a new place to grab a bite to eat, she noted.
She said Smithville Eats offers something for everyone, including rice bowls, a variety of sandwiches, smoothies, and crepes, which she said are their specialty.
Kurban's hope is that Dunkin' Donuts will bring more people to the center, and once there, they will shop and stop by for a bite to eat.
“We need foot traffic. Dunkin' Donuts will bring different people to the shopping center, like Stockton kids who maybe don’t want just Starbucks,” she said.
Danny DeFilippo of Village Cleaners, which has been at the location for 25 years, said Rosenblatt has done a great job improving the center.
“It looks beautiful. He has invested a lot of money into this,” DeFilippo said. “Dunkin' Donuts will help. But we really need a food store.”
Several anchor stores have come and gone. Shop n Bag closed in the early 2000s, Smitty’s Super Foodtown closed in 2014, and Incollingo’s Marketplace opened there in March 2014 and closed in less than a year.
Rosenblatt said he is actively seeking a grocery store to go in the roughly 50,000-square-foot building; he is even open to dividing it.
“We’ve been out there trying to target Aldi or Lidl – Aldi’s main competitor. We are targeting the right food establishments to compete with ShopRite and not go out of business.”
He said he likes the momentum he is seeing.
“I can’t wait until Dunkin' comes in,” he said. “People like to see cars and humans, not birds and buses.”
Rosenblatt can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Email Madelaine Vitale at email@example.com.