Fireworks at the Partnership for Haddonfield meeting

Business owners and landlords in the borough had their chance to offer suggestions and, in some cases, their criticisms to the Partnership for Haddonfield during a two-hour open meeting. Emotions were high as several of the owners expressed their frustrations with the partnership’s lack of communication with Haddonfield businesses and a perceived lack of interest in businesses on side streets in the downtown area.

The officials for the PfH held the meeting to address concerns that they were hearing from business members in town, Chair of the Board of Trustees Susan Hodges said prior to the meeting.

“Lets try to keep this meeting positive and hear some good ideas,” Hodges said.

The Partnership for Haddonfield is the management corporation for Haddonfield’s Business Improvement District. The Partnership for Haddonfield has developed special activities and events for the BID, including such events as Girls Night Out and First Friday. It’s a tax-funded entity that all business owners and landlords in town pay a percentage into.

Some of the most vocal business owners in the meeting were tenants on Tanner Street, the borough roadway that has been under construction for the majority of the past year.

“None of the night events work for the side street businesses,” said Wendy Kates, owner of Stardust Memories on Tanner Street.

Currently there aren’t even any working lights on Tanner Street, Kates said.

Dave Welsh, owner of the Haddonfield Running Co. on Kings Highway, said if you’re a business owner in this town you’re treated like “crap.” He cited an incident where a borough representative came into his store and dropped a piece of litter on his counter, which the representative said came from his store. Weiss said there were customers in the store during the incident.

The landlord of Rhinoceros, E. Guy Elzey III, dominated the meeting for nearly 20 minutes as he lambasted the leadership of the PfH by Hodges. He criticized Hodges for taking the position as simply a “resume filler,” and for taking the position despite having little to no experience in heading an organization such as this before. He deemed her reign as the chair of the PfH as a failure.

“I believe the partnership has lost the confidence of the landlords and the merchants in town,” he said.

He also went on to criticize the timing of the two street projects and the allowance of a massage parlor to set up shop on Kings Highway earlier this year. Elzey left before the meeting was concluded.

Hodges said she had never met Elzey before and this if he knew her personally he would not be saying such things about her.

Kasko stood up for the partnership and informed Elzey that the organization had nothing to do with the massage parlor coming into town, it was the landlord’s decision to rent the storefront to the current tenant. He also informed the speaker that the Tanner Street reconstruction project was deemed necessary by the borough and its commissioners, while the Ellis and Potter Street projects were driven by Camden County.

A fellow merchant also later apologized to Hodges on behalf of the audience for Elzey’s “inappropriate” comments.

David Hunter, publisher of “What’s On,” thanked the members of the Partnership for their dedication and hard work for Haddonfield. Hunter said the Partnership thinks of fantastic ideas and strategies for businesses in the BID, but too many of them die before they get started. Hunter proposed the Partnership hire a full-time employee to implement these new strategies and ideas.

The Partnership’s two part-time employees, Lisa Hurd and Rosalie Shapiro, do this to an extent, he said, but don’t have enough time outside of their regular duties.

As the meeting wound down, business owners supported the idea of a new “opening celebration” for Tanner Street when the construction has been completed. Business owner and resident Herb Hess suggested a block party to support the long-suffering businesses on the street.

Kasko confirmed that the commissioners are currently thinking of possible festivities for Tanner Street when the construction is completed.

Mayor Tish Colombi thanked the owners for their suggestions during the meeting.

“This only works if we all stand together, share our ideas, and work out our differences,” she said. “The BID’s job is to attract people into town. It’s your job to get them into your store.”

Matt Titus, owner of A Taste of Home and Yogurt on Kings Highway, said the partnership has been a big help for his business.

“I was one of the businesses that had the opportunity to move up to Kings Highway, and I definitely was able to make that choice through the efforts of the partnership,” he said. “I’m grateful to have the partnership and the information center in town. I’ll tell you that I see almost a 30 percent increase in business during each First Friday event.”

The partnership meets the first Wednesday of each month at 8:30 a.m. at the borough.