Story and photos by Joseph Sapia
FAIR HAVEN – Beverly Drotos stood outside Umberto’s Pizzeria on a recent night, noting the weather, around 40 degrees with a wind chill making it feel 10 degrees colder.
“It’s a chilly night for this,” said Drotos, 45, manager of the local branch of 1st Constitution Bank.
Drotos, who lives in the borough, and 1st Constitution were taking part in the Fair Haven Business Association’s second annual “Shop the Neighborhood,” held Thursday, Dec. 8, to acquaint businesses with customers during the winter holiday season. Businesses, some that normally close earlier in the day, celebrated Shop the Neighborhood from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., welcoming customers with snacks, beverage and live music.
Drotus bundled up, with the staff of Umberto’s bringing her a hot chocolate to stay warm. She remained bubbly in the cold as she talked of the warm feeling of the night and handed out fabric shopping bags, filled with candy, coloring pads, cups, and bicycle reflectors, compliments of the association.
“It’s just to encourage people to come out and visit the local stores – extended hours, personal service you get in Mom-and-Pop shops,” said dentist Paul Ferguson, who is treasurer of the approximately 55-member association. “They like the small-town feel of it. Somebody referred to it as Mayberry by the Sea.”
“It’s a fun, festive night with families and shoppers,” said Karen Rumage, co-owner of River Road Books.
Those out and about could drive, walk or ride a trolley-style bus to participating businesses along River Road for about a half-mile from Navesink Avenue to Minton Lane.
“We love community events,” said borough resident Stacey Strandberg, 44. “Events like this make this town so special.”
Strandberg was with her daughters, Ashley, 10, and Ava, 9. They bought winter knit hats at Moon Child, a boutique for girls in the tween years.
“We really do believe in shopping locally,” Strandberg said.
Strandberg’s friend, Maggie Murray, 48, and her daughter, Katie, 10, also of Fair Haven, bought a shirt and sweater. Murray said they were out to “support local business, they’re good to us all year.
“This is my first year doing it,” Murray said. “I try to shop locally, anyway.”
Jennifer Costa, owner of Moon Child, said some shoppers “are on a mission” to buy, others “still looking around” for holiday gift-giving.
Costa, 30, who grew up in Fair Haven and lives there, was serving chocolate-covered pretzels, candy, chocolate chip cookies, gingerbread men and champagne. In the background, Quinn Nolan, 15, who lives in town, played his tenor saxophone. Costa described Quinn as “amazing.”
“It’s fun,” Quinn said. “I play Christmas songs. People walk by, say, ‘Thank you’ (or) ‘It’s good.’”
Lulu Lyle and Anna McCarthy, both 14 of Fair Haven, were Christmas shopping, enjoying Shop the Neighborhood.
“It’s really cute,” Anna said. “It gets you into the holiday spirit, I guess.”
Lulu said she liked “seeing all the families outside.”
At Canyon Pass Provisions, which co-owner Genevieve DeBree described as an “outdoor lifestyle store,” a fire pit burned out front, with the classic Christmas movie, “It’s A Wonderful Life,” starring Jimmy Stewart, playing in the background.
Inside Canyon Pass’ lodge-style store – “People say, ‘I feel like I’m in Colorado, Vermont,’” DeBree said – visitors walked around and chatted. DeBree said customers support local business.
“They come out with force, with a purpose to support us,” said DeBree, who owns Canyon Pass with her husband, Derek, 47. “Retailing is really expanding (in Fair Haven).”
Stores used to stay open late during the town’s lighting of its Christmas tree. But, this year, the event moved to its own night, said Genevieve DeBree, a borough resident.
Charlie Krause, 17, played guitar and harmonica and sang at Canyon Pass.
“The crowd here likes the music I like,” said Charlie, playing songs by the Grateful Dead, Neil Young, Elton John and Richard Thompson.
“I like how casual it is,” said Charlie, playing at Canyon Pass for the second year in a row. “I like doing things for fun. This part of my musical career I do for fun.”
“He’s played a number of our events,” DeBree said. “He’s a very talented young man.”
It is unclear how many people participate, Ferguson said. But he said it appeared busier than last year.
“I love supporting local businesses,” said Rich Batting, 48, a borough resident who visited River Road Books with his partner, Marshall Prosswimmer, 52. “This bookstore is important. It’s like a dying breed.”
The store is keyed in to the taste of customers and makes recommendations for their reading, Prosswimmer said. “It’s personalized.”
“There’s nothing more depressing than a box store,” Batting said.
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