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SMALL-TOWN RETAIL SUCCESS STORIES: In Denville, town rallied behind recovery from flood

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The Heritage Grill is just one of many outdoor eating options in Denville.
The Heritage Grill is just one of many outdoor eating options in Denville. - ()

How can a drive-through town sandwiched among Parsippany Troy-Hills, Morristown and Dover officially put its “Hub of Morris County” title to good use?

By rising from disaster to be one of the only towns for miles with an up-and-running downtown area.

When Hurricane Irene wiped out just about all of Broadway with 4 feet of water, Denville's business district became a major priority.

“People love our downtown,” said Mayor Thomas Andes, who took office in January 2012. “That's where we go, meet, have our parades, block parties, events, and these are the shopkeepers that support all of our organizations in town, like Little League and tricky trays.”

Having been on the township council for 12 years and a resident for 30, Andes credits the 16,000 Denville residents with rallying around the businesses to help them start again.

After raising more than $500,000 in donations via a town committee, businesses were able to open and gross $190,000 during the “Denville Up and Running” 5K and band concert in October 2011.

SMALL-TOWN RETAIL SUCCESS STORIES: How Denville does it (and Collingswood, Lambertville and others across the state)

But that's not all. Not only did Hurricane Irene force businesses to put money into their storefronts, but it also enabled Denville to build a plethora of parking lots.

“We lost two out of three parking meters and don't intend to replace them,” Andes said.

Though Denville is a New Jersey Transit stop with service to Hoboken and New York Penn Station, the downtown is still about a mile away from the station — and therefore still mostly patronized by drive-through visitors.

Melissa Cooke, president of the Denville Chamber of Commerce, believes the additional free parking now makes Denville that much more attractive to surrounding towns.

“We're a 'park once and play' kind of town, with everything contained in just a few blocks,” Cooke said.

“Denville is easily the 'downtown' for other towns in the area that do not have distinct walkable downtown business areas, such as Mountain Lakes, Randolph and Parsippany.”

With about 350 retail and service-related businesses, visitors can enjoy everything from award-winning vegetarian fare at Veggie Heaven to traditional ice cream at Denville Dairy.

SMALL-TOWN RETAIL SUCCESS STORIES: If you want to make your Main Street your town's main attraction

“About 10 years ago, we also passed the sidewalk café ordinance, which was a significant change in allowing more outdoor dining,” Andes said.

“People really enjoy that and it attracts people to our community.”

Denville — which is in the process of applying for Main Street New Jersey status — is also in Phase 1 of a new downtown improvement initiative made possible by a $280,000 federal grant.

So far, the town has replaced trees along the storefronts with plum and cherry trees for more color and better visibility. It's also awaiting approval to install a new clock tower, curbs, lighting, garbage cans, planters, park benches and a new sound system to play music from every light pole.

Andes isn't wasting any more time.

“I saw all of these other towns that had these amenities and I said, 'Why doesn't Denville?'”

E-mail to: megf@njbiz.com
On Twitter:  @megfry3

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