FLEMINGTON — This Hunterdon County gem, measuring just one square mile and completely surrounded by sprawling Raritan Township, was able to open more small businesses in the past 12 months than closed within its borders. That has officials feeling optimistic for a spring and summer when COVID-19 restrictions may finally loosen.

Just three of the 16 new businesses are part of chains. The infusion of local flavor includes the newest of these shops, a retail store and photo studio called The Corner, which debuted last month.

Robin Lapidus, Flemington Community Partnership executive director, said the meaning of the borough's long-standing "Love Flemington" branding is twofold: a love for the community and its businesses. At no point has the combination of those two factors been more crucial than in the past year.

"These changes, I think people really feel them in their heart. It's not just business," she said. "Our local neighbors really got the message and responded, and that helped a lot of businesses get over the hump."

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Lapidus credits the "pioneering spirit" of several talented owners to show faith in the revitalization of Flemington's business district during a period in which unemployment, both across the state and the nation, sunk to its lowest levels in recent memory due to pandemic-related shutdowns and permanent closures.

Among the more than dozen stores to open anew in 2020 was a game store in the former location of a women's clothing shop. In turn, that shop moved to a new address, replacing a pool store.

Also singled out for accolades was Stork's Nest European Deli, which features Polish specialties.

"The owner is a talented chef, and she makes different kinds of pierogis every week and publishes the menu on Facebook, and everybody's raving about them," Lapidus said.

Borough Council President Caitlin Giles-McCormick said that taken as a group, these new businesses only enhance the goals set forth for the use of a $100,000 Opportunity Zone grant awarded in November 2019.

Part of the planning coming out of that grant seeks to improve walkability between a few different, concentrated shopping areas.

"It's about making that navigation easier, and connecting them, and keeping them engaged and keeping them coming back," Giles-McCormick said. "And all of these new businesses are really, really good."

Gov. Phil Murphy's recent signing of legislation extending liquor license protections for outdoor dining is pointing the way toward a robust return of the Flemington Filling Station beer garden this summer.

And, while it may not attract the 12,000 people it did in 2019, officials are hoping the Flemington Corn, Tomato and Beer Festival will be able to be held once again in August.

Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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