The borough business improvement district is covering the costs of a twice-a-week courier, Bloc Delivery, to ship purchases to shoppers within a five-mile radius.
By Matt Skoufalos | January 7, 2021
As bustling as the final months of the calendar year are for many small business owners, the early days of the new year are often the most muted.
Some years, these winter doldrums can last until the spring, as emotionally and financially depleted shoppers regather their wits (and their credit card statements).
But in these late stages of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, even a typical seasonal downturn could mean the difference between keeping the lights on and shuttering entirely for some storefronts.
In response, Collingswood Partners, the management arm of the borough Business Improvement District (BID) is launching a local delivery service designed to steer shoppers away from global retailers and back to the main streets of their community.
Ironically, they’re calling it “Collingswood Prime,” a nod to the ubiquitous logistical services of online retailer, Amazon, which is blamed for the death of many brick-and-mortar shops across the world.
Starting next week, Collingswood businesses will be able to offer twice weekly, in-home delivery to shoppers in five communities: Audubon, Collingswood, Haddonfield, Haddon Township, and Oaklyn.
When customers order from a Collingswood business, Bloc Delivery will receive a notification, and will fulfill the order twice a week, on Tuesday and Thursday. Eventually, the businesses may upload their inventories to the Bloc Delivery website so that customers receive a single shipment from multiple businesses. (The only items currently excluded from the service are hot meals.)
The cost for this service will be subsidized by the Collingswood BID, with no fees to shoppers for delivery or to businesses for participating, and fulfilled by Bloc Delivery, a bicycle service founded by Haddonfield resident Jen Grega.
Rebecca Callaway, Director of Business Development for the borough, said the executive board of Collingswood Partners, its Business Improvement District (BID) entity, was exploring local delivery options “knowing it’s going to be a rough winter” for businesses.
“What can we do to make it easier to safely get goods and products to customers that benefits the businesses without them spending more money that they don’t have right now?” Callaway said.
‘This is exactly what we were trying to do’
In the early months of the pandemic, Grega launched Bloc Delivery together with cofounders Alison Cohen and Kiera Smalls, both of Philadelphia, as a way to connect residents there with small businesses that had been closed to in-person shopping.
At that time, Bloc Delivery also began handling Collingswood Farmers Market deliveries within the borough as a pilot project through the BID. Grega found early adopters to the service among Collingswood businesses like Revolution Coffee Roasters, Occasionette, and ExtraordinaryED, but after pandemic restrictions were eased, the demand for her service had petered out.
“In the beginning, we just wanted to help however we could,” she said. “The Farmers Market jumped on it, and it was awesome, but it was only needed for six-to-eight weeks until they could figure out how to space everything.
“We had decided not to pursue New Jersey, and focus on Philadelphia,” Grega said, “and when Rebecca reached out, I said, ‘This is exactly what we were trying to do.’”
“We want this thing to grow and take off’
Occasionette owner Sara Villari said she’s “so excited” for the Collingswood Prime service to get off the ground.
“I think it’s a really good common denominator” for local businesses, Villari said.
“It makes so much more sense than mailing something [locally].
“People really do want to support local,” she said; “anything the borough can do to help is perfect.”
ExtraordinaryED store manager Henry Van Nostrand said she believes the service can help sustain local shopping by consolidating purchases from multiple businesses in a single delivery.
“I can shop at my store, Occasionette, Clutter, Arts Plus, and make one purchase and have it delivered all together,” Van Nostrand said. “It’s just something that I think this area could sustain really well, and it would help all the stores get a little more business.”
She said ExtraordinaryED has been pleased with the quality of work Bloc Delivery provides since they used the service last year.
“We trusted them to get it delivered to the right place; we loved the fact that they were using electric bikes and it was more sustainable that way,” Van Nostrand said.
“They were always on time, they always delivered; it was a great service.”
Even though his business already offers local delivery, Chef Joe Muldoon of Haddon Culinary said that the Bloc Delivery service is “a phenomenal idea, and we’re definitely going to support it.
“We want this thing to grow and take off,” Muldoon said; “this concept’s tailored for us.
“For [the BID]to get together to help get more people out there, it’s going to help us immensely,” he said.
Haddon Township native Amanda Neeff, New Jersey operations manager for Bloc Delivery, said she hopes the service can grow and expand its reach into other local communities next.
As Collingswood Prime connects with shoppers in five surrounding zip codes, she believes other neighborhoods may start to realize the benefits as well.
“We want to make sure that we can promote across these towns and deliver efficiently,” Neeff said. “Hopefully if this is successful, we can expand.”
Rob Grega, Jen’s husband, said that making deliveries with his wife during the spring and summer of 2020 helped him get to know area neighborhoods and the people in them.
“It’s built my sense of community and responsibility to the community,” he said. “It makes me think twice before ordering from Amazon.”
Jen Grega also hopes that Collingswood Prime can demonstrate how new models of commerce can thrive across communities and within a small, regional system.
“I think people love supporting local, and it’s just a change of habit,” she said. “It doesn’t make any sense to me why there’s any lines drawn as far as supporting and buying from local businesses.
“It’s going to take time, but I do feel like we’re going in the right direction.”