The Court Room, the Ballot Box, and the Market Place (2 of 4)
First Commercial Construction Outside Of Downtown Flemington
It was actually 62 years ago that the first commercial construction occurred outside of the downtown Flemington business area. Flemington had supermarkets, grocery stores, a butcher shop, a bakery, two full service banks, several lunch places, two five and ten cent stores, a shoe repair store, a liquor store, a drugstore, clothing stores, shoe stores, a stationary store, a camera and photography store, a sporting goods store, a department store, and an upscale women's dress shop, and professional offices, etc. all located on Main Street in Flemington. There was the Egg Auction, a frozen food and food locker business, a flower shop and a feed mill and Agway garden supply business within a block of Main Street. The nearest alternative for shopping by local residents, and people living in the surrounding community, was in Somerville or Easton, Pennsylvania.
Business District Taxes Filled the Coffers of the Local Government
Additionally there was the old court house, and next door to it all of the County Offices in the County. The active Court House was the site of all County and Superior Court trials in Hunterdon County, thus drawing lawyers and clients into the center of town for trials, motions, lunches, and a drink at the Hotel after Court adjourned. The County Offices were filled with employees needing a place to walk to for lunch and shopping before and after work. Demand for store and office space kept rent high. High rent meant property value was high and taxes from these properties filled the coffers of the local government. Taxes from the business district paid for more than half of all local government and school expenses.
With the construction of the Hunterdon Shopping Center, and the construction across the highway from it of Flemington Discount City (later Majors), alternatives for business and for shoppers began to open up locally. First supermarkets that required a high volume of business, and thus lots of room for people to park, were the first to move out of town. Smaller businesses that felt they would benefit from the traffic generated by the supermarkets next began to establish themselves in the two shopping centers. Small businesses and professional offices and low-volume quality businesses remained on Main Street.
The market forces continued to entice people to move their businesses from Main Street to the newly constructed retail and office spaces outside of town. What was at one time deemed to be a parking problem in town was essentially solved by the movement of some businesses to new facilities that offered perceived greater parking convenience. Banks and fast food places wanted drive-through windows to accommodate the new lifestyle of their patrons. Main Street could not provide or meet this perceived need. But with less intent business needs on Main Street the existing parking spaces seemed adequate, if only people knew where they were.
People began to speak of vacancies and lack of traffic on Main Street. They spoke of the need for better and more convenient parking. Studies that were commissioned demonstrated that there were adequate numbers of parking spaces available. It was noted that they were not all on site of particular businesses. In fact no business, had the amount of parking called for by local zoning regulations. It was also observed that people were walking farther from parking spaces where they could park in the shopping centers, to their actual shopping experience in the centers, than people had to walk from available parking in town to their shopping experiences in town. What is perceived is important. What is perceived continually, and talked about regularly, becomes believed as true. New signage was created to help solve this perceived parking need.
Tax Burden Began to Shift
Local government heard complaints as the tax burden began to shift from the business community to the residential community. The government officials heard people say that the town was dead. They began to believe what they heard without looking at the source. There were complaints that the businesses were not doing as well as business was doing in Somerville. Without the hotel restaurant, and bar, they were told, and believed, there was no place to go in town. These elected officials felt they had to do something. They felt desperate. When people feel they face desperate situations they tend to do desperate things. (to be continued)