As we collectively work to save lives and limit the devastation of COVID-19, one byproduct of all the precautions against the virus is a sharply-increased threat to the viability of small businesses in our local communities. As Forbes magazine reported on September 16, an estimated 163,735 small businesses in the U.S. have closed since March 1; retailers and restaurants are among those hardest hit. This threat is magnified in businesses owned by or catering to the frum community, as they are closed for a full day each week.
Recognizing both the real threat to frum small businesses and the essential role of these establishments in the strength of their local Jewish communities, the newly formed Raritan Valley Orthodox Jewish Community Association (the ROC of NJ) has launched a drive to encourage Jewish community members in East Brunswick, Edison, Highland Park and neighboring towns to shop and support local frum-owned small businesses.
The “Shop Local” campaign can be seen in colorful professionally designed signs that have appeared on a number of businesses on the main street in Highland Park and in postings on Facebook. The Shop Local signs highlight 25 local participating vendors and advise community members: “Small business owners are our friends and neighbors struggling to stay afloat in this pandemic. They provide us with food, goods and services. They need us and we need them!”
As Josh Pruzansky, founder and president of the ROC of NJ, stated: “We can’t have a viable Jewish community without our kosher restaurants, our clothing stores and the other frum businesses that understand our needs. These businesses are the backbone of the local community and we want to make sure they survive the current circumstances.”
Pruzansky explained that phase one of the Shop Local campaign is an awareness drive. In phase two, the ROC of NJ will undertake a fundraising drive, to support this initiative and others, and each donor will receive a coupon book offering discounts at the participating businesses. The use of the coupons will provide the ROC of NJ with a measure of the impact of the campaign.
Pruzansky added that local community members have stepped forward to support the Shop Local campaign, citing as an example Devorah Pava of East Brunswick, who designed the poster pro bono. He said that many of the owners of the participating businesses have been cheered by the new campaign, as they were concerned about the level of support they receive in their community.
“This is an excellent opportunity for local small businesses to come together with a shared goal of inspiring community members to support our goods and services,” said Marla Rottenstreich, owner of Mekor Fitness & Studio in Edison. “It is an honor to participate, as I have a personal mandate to shop local and support other small businesses while being hopeful that Edison/Highland Park community women will support Mekor Fitness for their wellness needs.”
“Having strong support of the local community is essential for the success of a small business,” said Marion Bernstein, owner of Sweets to Nuts in Highland Park. “Sweets to Nuts applauds the efforts of ROC of New Jersey to help reinforce and drive such support.”
“Covered Girl Clothing has customers nationwide, however, our priority has always been to serve our community’s tzniut clothing needs for women, teens and girls,” said Sharon Garber, owner of Covered Girl Clothing in Highland Park. “We are encouraged by the creation of the ROC of NJ. The ROC recognizes that a strong community can only be maintained by supporting our local stores. We look forward to working with the ROC in furthering our mutual goals.”
By Harry Glazer for the Jewish Link