GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — In the six months or so since he learned that the Smithville Town Center existed, Harvey Rosenblatt has filled a three-ring binder to textbook thickness on the past, present and future of the shopping complex.
He’s researched its history, looked at its problems, studied current successful tenants and packed a busy Facebook page with thoughts and questions about possible new businesses.
But along with such big-picture items, Rosenblatt has also taken pictures of the burgers and wings at one of the center’s tenants, JD’s Pub & Grille, and posted them to promote the restaurant. He’s helped punch up the online presence of another tenant, Ojeda Sports Performance, and campaigned to convince Google Maps that Ryan Ojeda’s business is in Galloway, not Absecon, 4-plus miles away.
Rosenblatt said he is buying the long-struggling shopping complex and plans to make one big change when he does. Shortly after he closes on the deal early this year, Rosenblatt expects to hang a new sign out front converting the center’s identity to Smithville Square.
The resident of Jackson Township, Ocean County, said his research tells him most Galloway people think of their town center being at Pitney and Jimmie Leeds roads, a few miles southwest of Smithville. But speaking of signs, he wants to make the one on Route 9 much easier to see, because his research convinces him that one big problem with the center is its lack of visibility from the road.
The tenants say a lack of visibility definitely isn’t a problem with their future landlord himself.
"I see Harvey more in one week than I saw my landlord in the last two years,” said Todd Storr, a JD’s co-owner. “I’ve seen him more than I’ve seen any previous owner of the center.”
So have customers at the center and top officials in Galloway. Rosenblatt is on a first-name basis with regulars at his “anchor tenant,” JD’s, and his face is almost that familiar at the township building.
“Harvey being there has brought a lot of energy to that area,” said Mayor Don Purdy, an occasional commenter on the center’s Facebook.com/SmithvilleSquare page — which is now topped by Rosenblatt’s new logo for the place.
That energy is “well needed,” Purdy said, “and the township is going to give him every opportunity to develop that area in a positive way.”
Purdy calls the future Smithville Square “a depressed shopping center in a nondepressed area.” And he agrees that simple visibility is one of the prime problems, saying it was a “mistake” for the township in the 1980s to require such a long setback off well-traveled Route 9.
“There’s defintely a sight issue with the trees,” the mayor said. “And we’ve let him know the township is on board with helping him develop that site. ... I think it’s very good for the neighborhood as well as him as a business owner.”
JD’s has been in the shopping center for 19 years, “and we still have people who say, ‘We didn’t know you were here,’” Storr said the other day, chatting outside his business with Rosenblatt. “People tell us, ‘We didn’t even know there was a shopping center here.’”
JD’s owners have also been impressed by how hard Rosenblatt has worked on a property he didn’t own yet. Storr said he’s gotten texts from the future landlord anywhere from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Rosenblatt’s plans for the center include adding outdoor seating at JD’s, by filling in a cut in an irregularly shaped sidewalk line. He’s also considering outdoor concerts or other events and said he’s “entertaining entertainment” as a draw, possibly in the form of a movie-and-bowling complex.
He plans to upgrade everything from the buildings’ facades to landscaping to parking-lot lighting. And he’s working to fill a major hole in his lineup — an empty supermarket last run as Incollingo’s, a local brand that opened in 2014 and closed within a year. Now, that empty space is just one of many vacancies in the center, but Rosenblatt hopes to make a splash attracting “major” national tenants, partly by publicly promoting not just Smithville Square, but Galloway as a whole.
“How can you go ahead and sell a place if people can’t even find Galloway on the map?” asked Rosenblatt, who put Galloway on a map on his Facebook page, accentuating the positives — one of the largest land areas of any municipality in the state, a population of 37,000-plus in the 2010 census and more facts of possible interest to national retailers.
He’s recruiting local retailers himself, emphasizing Smithville as the township’s population center. And he’s tried hard to promote Smithville Square’s current tenants, helping them with everything from menu pictures to straightening out confusion in their Google Maps addresses.
“I always ask, ‘What can I do to make retailers successful here?’ Because if they’re successful, we’ll be successful,” Rosenblatt said. “And if they aren’t doing well, we won’t do well. ... I’m not just a landlord offering four walls and a location. I really care about any business in our center thriving.”