Fair Lawn’s facelift: Bergen County municipality feels improving look of storefronts will be boost for businesses

With approximately 300 storefronts and 33,000 residents to support them, Fair Lawn has the look and the density of so-many other mid-size business districts in the state.

And like so many other municipalities, town officials have continually wondered if it has the look that’s needed to remain vibrant in a post-pandemic retail world.

There’s just one difference: The Fair Lawn Economic Development Corporation wasn’t about to sit back and find out.

Last fall, Fair Lawn joined the Main Street New Jersey program run by the N.J. Department of Community Affairs. Soon after, it was awarded a $75,000 grant that it is using to help businesses make non-structural updates to their storefronts as part of a Façade Improvement Program.

Simply put, they are helping businesses procure cleaner and more inviting storefront signs.

The program, still in a pilot stage, is starting to slow. But so far, the three stores it has updated are getting strong reviews, according to Ryan Graff, the Fair Lawn EDC Main Street director.

“The Facade Improvement Program not only works to increase the economic vitality of the municipality but increases the overall visual aesthetic of our business community,” he said. “In the wake of the pandemic, it is important to help small businesses in any way possible.”

“This program helps make people want to come to Fair Lawn, shop in Fair Lawn, locate in Fair Lawn, and do business in Fair Lawn.”

The program has provided Fair Lawn businesses with up to $10,000 in support to make non-structural changes to their storefronts. It allows for improvements to signage, painting, and other storefront enhancements. 

The businesses – Garden Pharmacy, Hong Kong Chinese Restaurant and America’s Pastime – also received comprehensive support from the Fair Lawn Economic Development Corporation’s Storefront Committee throughout the design, planning and implementation stages of the process. The committee also engaged a designer to enable business owners to have access to professional assistance associated with making exterior modifications to the storefronts.

As delighted as they are with the pilot program, Fair Lawn officials know they may never have the funding needed to do the entire municipality.

But they still intend to do more.

Graff said the Fair Lawn EDC and the town are working with the town’s grant writer to identify and apply for additional grant funding. In addition, the Fair Lawn EDC receives a significant appropriation from the Fair Lawn Borough Council – and a significant amount of that municipal appropriation is to be used to fund the next phase of the Facade Improvement Program.

Graff said the group plans to expand the next phase of the program so that a total of 10 businesses can be serviced. 

Selecting the storefronts for the next phase will be a group effort.

Graff said members of the storefront improvement committee have engaged with businesses directly to educate them about the program. The committee members also are working to identify businesses and locations that they felt would be in greatest need of a facelift.

After determining need and interest, the committee as a whole will assess their candidacy for inclusion in the program. As the program gains traction, and its outcomes are visible, Graff feels more businesses will be eager to be considered for inclusion in the program. 

The committee has accepted – and continues to accept – referrals from the community. And for good reason. 

The Façade Improvement Program impacts more than just one business, Fair Lawn Borough Councilwoman Gail Rottenstrich said the entire community benefits.

“The facade improvement program provides a significant level of enrichment for the community,” she said. “Giving storefronts a facelift not only benefits business owners but enhances the overall appearance of our business districts to create a more vibrant environment.”