Freehold is your place, local business owners say. But if you're looking for a great place to shop, chances are Freehold won't be at the top of the list.
Officials at the Freehold Center Partnership, an organization devoted to the economic development of the borough's downtown, are betting they can change that perception.
At its annual meeting last month, the partnership decided to allocate $40,000 for business development, according to chief operating manager Jayne Carr. The partnership also plans to hire a part-time specialist in economic development.
These decisions are part of a shift for the partner-ship, which had previously focused on marketing Freehold, Carr said. In the past, people had been afraid to come to Freehold, Carr said. But after years of advertising and the implementation of scores of popular events like Kruise Night, Carr believes officials have successfully convinced nonresidents that Freehold is a place they can visit without fear.
"We've certainly gotten past the "I'm afraid to come here' (factor)," Carr said.
With that goal behind them, partnership officials say they are ready to focus on developing Freehold into a destination town for more than just events and meals.
In recent years, Freehold has done a good job attracting professional offices and restaurants, said Don Smartt, a consultant who works with the partnership and similar organizations to revitalize downtowns.
"That's great. But it (Freehold) has got to be more than that," Smartt said.
A main focus for Freehold should be bringing in specialty stores that would not be found at the mall, Smartt and local business representatives conclude.
"The mall is a great place. But we want people to come downtown and support Freehold," said William Haluska, chairman of the partnership's business development committee.
Those businesses could be anything from a little coffee shop to a clothing boutique, partnership representatives said.
As an example, Smartt cited a crepe shop with a European flavor.
"That's a niche. He (the owner) couldn't ever have gone into the mall," Smartt said. Freehold also needs to find ways to keep visitors in town after eating at the town's restaurants, and should aim to fill vacancies on floors above local businesses, some partnership representatives suggested.