When the decision came down Monday night from the Health Department to reopen the former Pascack Valley Hospital, business owners in the borough of Westwood breathed a heavy sigh of relief.
Lee Tremble, a lifelong resident who owns the Iron Horse restaurant in downtown Westwood, said his father took out a $100 loan to contribute to the building of the facility in the late 1950s. When the hospital closed in 2007, Tremble said he saw an "exodus" of families.
But when Hackensack University Medical Center at Pascack Valley opens either later this year or early in 2013, Tremble feels the trend will be reversed.
"When 750 people come to work … every one of those people has to eat lunch, every one of those people has to get their clothes cleaned, they all have to buy pencils and erasers, they're all interested in buying the newspaper," Tremble said. "It's not just the hospital, it's dominoes — once the hospital is back, then all the dominoes start to fall. And they're not going to fall rapidly, because this is something we've now been without for years."
Tremble, who is working to reopen the Iron Horse after a kitchen fire last fall, said fellow restaurateurs in the area felt the impact of the hospital closure more thoroughly.
"The people that call on hospitals, the drug salesmen, the petri dish salesmen, they would pick up trays of sandwiches to bring to a doctor's office — that's how they get their introduction to sell their Tylenol. That stops," Tremble said. A well-known local eatery, Burke's On Old Hook, "is several hundred yards away on Old Hook Road from the hospital; his business plunged when the emergency room nursing crew wasn't coming in for a cocktail after work. … The diner across the street, the Westwood Diner, his business plummeted, because they couldn't walk across the street for an egg sandwich."
Bruce Meisel, CEO of Pascack Community Bank, which has headquarters in Westwood, said the community has been eagerly anticipating the hospital to make a comeback by creating a new master plan.
"What the master plan recommended was that the hospital, which is a self-contained zone, that those 20 acres be permitted to develop intensely," Meisel said. "Everything around that hospital was light industrial zoned, and light industrial is an endangered species in northern New Jersey — so what the town did, when the planning board adopted its master plan, was to do an overlay with that entire industrial zone with uses that are directly complementary for the hospital."
Meisel said he's already fielding calls from area small-business owners interested in setting up shop near the hospital, looking for possible financing. He added that the decision "creates an economic hot house" in Westwood.
"This hospital creates stronger local economy. It benefits Pascack Community Bank … and banks are retail businesses, so it impacts all of the other retailers in downtown Westwood," Meisel said. "It's all about jobs and businesses, and small businesses create jobs … it's a circle."