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Vocal Business Owner Rewarded with Grant

"This town is not used to any controversy," Haddonfield Running Company's owner says.

You could call it a case of the squeaky wheel getting the grease.

But Dave Welsh, owner of the Haddonfield Running Company, thinks $12,400 in grants he received from the Partnership for Haddonfield, the borough's tax-funded business improvement district, was just desserts.

"I'm paying into it with taxes on the rent," Welsh said of the PfH. "If I'm paying I'm into it, why can’t they pay me back to help me out?"

Welsh moved his running-shoe business across Kings Highway last year into a 2,800-square foot space that nearly tripled the size of his store. He said he financed the move out of his own pocket because he couldn't get adequate financing. The store celebrated its 15th anniversary in February.

Welsh was one of the loudest voices last fall when the PfH held a town meeting with business owners to air grievances. He peppered board members with questions about town policies and borough employees he said made it hard to do business in Haddonfield.

"You're treated like crap if you're a business owner in this town," he told the board. "I don't think this town helps any stores. Instead we get harassed about things like signs in our windows."

He said a borough code enforcement officer once came into his store and dropped a piece of trash on his counter. He said the piece of paper with his store info on it was blowing around the street and the official tersely told him it needed to be cleaned up. Welsh said the action was inappropriate.

PfH officials told Welsh they were not responsible for borough employees and policies but they would make an effort to help mediate disputes owners had with the borough. Later, they went one better. They awarded Welsh $12,400 in grants at the end of the year for rent abatement and to help reimburse his build-out cost for the move across Kings Highway.

PfH Chairwoman Susan Hodges said the grant to Welsh was in line with the improvement district's mission to help recruit and retain stores and had nothing to do with how vocal Welsh was in the fall town meeting. Welsh said he applied for  the grants eight months before he blew up at the meeting and had expected the funds long before that were awarded in December.

The PfH budgeted $40,700 in retention and recruitment grants in 2011 and $59,000 in 2010. A neighbor of Welsh's, Summit Sampler furniture store, received $19,800 in grants. PfH budget cuts this year have knocked down the budgeted grant total to just $22,000.

Welsh said he enjoys doing business in the borough, despite the challenges. And as far as being a vocal critic of Haddonfield, he said that's nothing new.

"I grew up in Haddon Township," said Welsh, 35. " was a rival. I've been speaking out against Haddonfield for most of my life. This town is not used to any controversy. It's a super conservative town. For someone like me to speak out, it catches them off guard. A lot of stores have been here forever and some merchants think their voices are not being heard."

Welsh also operates athletic-shoe stores in Moorestown, Mullica Hill and Stafford.

Herb Hess April 27, 2012 at 01:32 PM
We need many more successful merchants like Dave in Haddonfield. At the PfH meeting where Dave vocally complained he also described how his knees were still bruised from personally refitting his new store over a single weekend. This guy is a real entrepreneur. As far as taking more than 8 months to approve a grant, and excuses such as "we are not responsible for the actions of Boro employees" is concerned, that is just unacceptable. Haddonfield's Commission passed the BID ordinance to grow businesses in town. We are a small enough Boro that the Mayor and Commission can lead by attitude and example. Our Boro and our Bid employees should be aligned around common objectives of making it easier for businesses to grow and prosper in Haddonfield. Instead we lose businesses due to sign disputes (Haddon Avenue), discourage businesses because we can't make a simple decision about banner sponsorship, and in general do everything possible to stymie business success and growth. Even our Parking Partnership with Patco has failed as the gate to Patco parking that should be open each weekend is not. When I asked the Boro about this they complained that it was Patco's responsibilty and that Patco routinely fails to make this additional parking available. How about meeting with Patco and telling them that we will fail to deliver water to their station from our Public Works department. We are either committed to supporting businesses fully or we are not. Let's decide!
Brian Kelly April 27, 2012 at 04:05 PM
Herb, You couldn't be more right. The mayor and the commission have a responsibility to help our businesses grow and prosper and it's not happening. Their agenda is their own and the town is suffering for it. When talking to many of the merchants they express profound disappointment in the way they're treated and in the lack of business initiatives put forth. Instead we get massive projects pushed on us that will change Haddonfield forever and once they're done there's no going back. Just look around you...the Bancroft plan, the Brandywine senior home project, the Methodist cemetery and the continuing Boxwood saga. All projects that will affect our neighborhoods for the worse and in most cases line the pockets of the choice select while ignoring the real needs of our downtown businesses. This is bad governing at a critical time in our history.
Maryann Campling April 27, 2012 at 09:04 PM
My heart goes out to Mr. Welsh and other merchants who have come up against the powers that be in H-field. Running a profitable, small business is a challenge in a good economy, let alone the five year recession (which the Beltway crowd denies) we're currently experiencing. Messrs. Hess' and Kelly's observations are right on the money. I realize that there are standards that must be observed, but people are more important than image; Commissioner Kasko seems to understand that. I sincerely hope that compassion and common sense become part of the solution to the problems our town faces.
Wendy Kates April 27, 2012 at 09:44 PM
Brian & Herb, Although I closed my shop I want you to know how much your support is appreciated. I have business friends in town still trying to survive. I did want to make one thing clear.Stardust Memories did not fail.The store was holding its own even with the construction & obstacles but I needed more visability to increase foot traffic & eventually become profitable. To make expenses the 1st yr. in this economy and on Tanner St was amazing. It was the aggrevation from the Borough that did me in. The kiosks played a huge part in my decision but the way I was treated for saving a tree and fighting for the Historic Integrity of Tanner St was downright unacceptable. When the Merchants begged the Commisioners to leave the lights on the trees just until the weather got a little better & they refused & referred to old ordinances it was the beginning of the end for me. I just got sick of being angry and having another fight on my hands. When I got the letter to remove my little tiny twinkle lights from my porch that gave me visability from Kings Hwy. it was time to go. I just could not deal with this petty mentality anymore. When I read about the Banners & the Commissioners comment "Only we decide how businesses can advertise themselves" I was glad I was gone. As a Certified Real Estate Appraiser for over 20 years I will tell you that a thriving business district is crucial to maintaining property values. When vacancies prevail property values decline. Yes, dreadful leadership!
Wendy Kates April 27, 2012 at 10:05 PM
Thanks Maryann, Commissioner Kasko took time out of his very busy schedule to listen to my concerns. I commend him for his support for Joe Poliero to put a small advertisement on the Banner. Joe is an Appraiser and I know how much that little temporary ad could mean. The Remmington and Vernick ad on the banner was a total slap in the face to the whole business community. Aren,t elections right around the corner?
Bill Magee April 28, 2012 at 01:31 PM
I live in neighboring Cherry Hill, but often visit Haddonfield and Kings Highway. What makes Haddonfield special is Kings Highway, and what makes Kings Highway special are the shops. It is not the presence or absence of signs or lights - the stuff that the borough seems to think is all important. It is the unique, hometown feel of shops with their individual styles. The degree to which the leadership of the borough apparently harass and obstruct the very people who make Haddonfield what is it is amazing. Associated with that is the whole banner issue. To listen to some of the leaders, putting the name of a business in a corner of the King Highway banner would destroy the image of the borough. Then, this week, there was a new banner, and right across the top is, "Remington & Vernick present...". Hmm. I guess there are businesses that can't be on a banner, and businesses that, for whatever reason, can.
Brian Kelly April 28, 2012 at 11:02 PM
It's interesting to hear viewpoints of people living outside of town. Bill has just stated what most everyone in the town knows...it's the shops and the people running them that are special. The most troubling issue is the glaring set of guidelines the local town leaders use as they see fit. The "Remington and Vernick" banner debacle is a clear slap in the face to the business owners. Our elected officials are here to best serve the interests of our town, it's not the other way around. I do applaud Commissioner Kasko for taking the time to listen to his constituents. I believe that's called leadership and it's lacking in our local government.

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