When most mom and pop stores on Central Avenue in Jersey City managed to stay open in the face of competition from online shopping, it seemed like a victory. Then came the pandemic, followed by word that there would be construction on the streets in front of their shops. Many small business owners feared they would be forced to shut down for good.
PSE&G, which is modernizing natural gas systems in Jersey City and across the state, had a plan to work with business owners and make the construction project as painless as possible.
“At the time, I thought, small business has enough competition with internet shopping, malls, the pandemic and now PSE&G’s GSMP roadway and sidewalk construction project,” said Jersey City Ward D Councilman Yousef Saleh. “The constant communication and responsiveness made this job move along much better than anticipated for The Heights community.”
The key to alleviating any fears was increased communication and collaborative planning. Members of the PSE&G project team responsible for the recent Gas System Modernization Program in Jersey City also worked with the Central Avenue Special Improvement District on proposed streetscape work that includes a lighting plan from PSE&G.
“For nearly three decades, PSE&G has worked with the Central Avenue SID to improve lighting conditions, coordinate major service upgrades, assist in a $4 million streetscape improvement project, and address a multitude of challenges facing our shopping district and the 240 storefront businesses within,” said Sanford Fishman, CASID president and longtime pharmacist at Bond Drugs on Central Avenue. “Infrastructure is critical for small businesses and main street communities everywhere to succeed.”
Alexa Lima, executive director of the Central Avenue SID Management Corporation, said the 14-block corridor provides vital services and holds significant historic and cultural value to the region.
“It was important that it was done right, before any construction began,” Lima said. “PSE&G is so good at communicating with its partners.”
“People can manage through almost anything as long as they know what is happening,” said PSE&G Senior Regional Public Affairs Manager Rich Dwyer. “We responded very quickly to all concerns raised.”
According to Dwyer, PSE&G routinely checks municipal street work schedules when planning projects like GSMP work, which requires street digging to replace old cast iron and steel natural gas pipes with more durable and safer plastic ones.
“The GSMP team successfully created a plan with the city before the work started to expedite and complete a 12-block stretch of upgrades in a short period of time,” said Sam Campanella, district manager – Gas Operations, “It was important for the GSMP to be out of the way to minimize construction, traffic and pedestrian conflicts, and help support local businesses.”
Campanella said the GSMP work, which took place between September and November 2020, involved nearly a half mile of gas main and equipment at 144 service connections. Work crews, motorists, customers and the business community faced the added challenge of executing the job on Central Avenue, a busy, narrow, two-lane roadway. Ahead of construction, project team members visited residents and businesses to explain the work and help manage customer expectations.
Lima said Dwyer also gave her regular updates that were included in social media posts and weekly communications for the community.
The project held a personal interest for Dwyer, who maintains strong ties to the Jersey City Heights area where his family has roots and where he still shops whenever he gets the chance. All municipalities in the PSE&G territory get a personal touch, he said, and that includes understanding the concerns of small businesses.
Recently, PSE&G helped raise awareness about pandemic relief funds available for small businesses.
“PSE&G has been a highly valued, and longtime partner, for our three-quarter mile commercial corridor serving Jersey City and the greater Hudson County community,” Fishman said.
National Small Business Day is celebrated annually on May 10.