It was 80 degrees and sunny in Mt. Laurel on June 12, when friends and family were welcomed to a Rancocas Woods’ event by a Kid Rock cover song, “All Summer Long,” and shops to explore along Creek Road.
“This is a block party for Creek Road shops,” said Rancocas Events Manager Janeen Hovnanian. “And (it’s) focused strictly toward our business association, so everything today is going to be raising funds for that.”
Rancocas and its business association collaborated on the summer kickoff block party, which included an open mic night, community yard sale and Zed’s Beer Garden.
Proceeds will benefit the association, a nonprofit formed about three years ago to put funds back into the 16 shops on Creek Road. Money has been spent on landscaping, signs and lighting since the association was founded. Small, local businesses along creek road include The Artisan House, A Knit Shop and The Hot Dog Shack.
“The pandemic was challenging for us; we were shut down,” said Bernie Morris, one of the owners of Artisan House. “But in that time, we were able to work on our space, like paint our whole store.”
The Artisan House is a craft store through which vendors from around the area can sell their wares. While Morris’ wife Juanita makes her own crafts for the store, the couple also support several local sellers, such as candle, wood and glass makers.
“It means the world to us just to have a few people back in town,” Bernie explained. “Before COVID happened, our craft shows were starting to become big. Then it just stopped and it was a ghost town.”
Before the shutdown, Hovnanian, along with Rancocas Woods’ trustee and board member Mariel Giletto, worked hard to provide events on Creek Road and to bring the Woods back to its former glory.
“I started in December 2019; things on the property have slowly sort of gone downhill, sadly,” Hovnanian noted. “But we’re way back open …We’re very fortunate that we have so much outdoor space that we were safely able to do this and accommodate a nice size crowd.”
To sell products through Zed’s, Giletto obtained the proper licensing and documentation to distribute alcohol at the event, and a one day permit from the township was required. Through its partnership with the local Compass Realty, planners got help to sponsor the event and provide the funds necessary to cover any overhead costs, such as permitting fees, according to Giletto.
“We want to focus more on these events, to draw people to the area and to raise money for the Association, which we can then put back into the community,” Giletto added.
Both Giletto and Hovnanian grew up in or around the area and would often shop at Rancocas Woods.
“I’d love this to become a little gem of a Woodstock in South Jersey,” Hovnanian said, referring to the infamous 1969 rock festival in New York state.
Area residents have also shopped on Creek Road to show their support for its small and local businesses.
“I love it; we stopped here 10 years ago, nothing was happening here,” Mt. Laurel resident Nick Mader recalled at the event. “Everything was closed down, so it’s nice to see that everything’s finally able to get open.”
The end goal for Rancocas Events and the Business Association is to continue the support of Creek Road’s small and local businesses through community events.
“There’s been lots of change and wonderful evolution from what wasn’t working in the past to what is working,” Hovnanian explained. “I’m here to help revive the downtown woods and bring it back to where it used to be.”
For more information on Rancocas Woods’ events, go to http://www.rancocaswoodsevents.com/