By AARON RILEY
The early 21st Century has seen the development of the formerly desolate High St. in Millville, N.J. into a booming arts district. The terrace of communal markets and galleries officially known as Glasstown was designated a Main Street Community in 2004 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The title is fitting, especially given the historicity of the downtown area. The ornamentation of the stores in the area is eclectic, including such styles as Victorian, Second Empire, Italianate, and Gothic Revival. In 1908 William Wrifford, best known as the architect of the Westmont Theatre, designed the vaudevillian Levoy Theatre on High Street. High Street’s status as a polestar of history and culture is a certainty.
Nevertheless, onward into the 90’s the downtown area had been economically destitute with no investment into its maintenance or development. “Millville’s downtown had only a 50 percent storefront occupancy rate at the time,” according to an article by Millville Mayor James F. Quinn. That was until the city legislated an arts district stretching a 12-square-block area. “The revitalization of downtown Millville found its catalyst in the summer of 1999. After a great deal of research, surveys and target group interviews, it was determined that the “arts” would be that catalyst. Currently, storefront occupancy levels are over 90 percent with a total of 147 businesses/employment entities. Since 2000, 123 new businesses have opened. The net increase is 89 new businesses in Millville’s downtown. Market rate property values have nearly tripled on small to mid-size buildings, and doubled on large buildings,” stated Marianne Lods, Executive Director of Millville Development Corporation, as compiled by the New Jersey State League of Municipalities.
Today, Third Friday is a pivotal feature of the Glasstown Arts District. On the third Friday of every month, the stores and galleries are open late, work from local up-and-coming artists is exhibited and restaurants feature live music. Just about every store offers something unique on Third Friday.
The Vintage Rose Tea Room, located on 132 N. High Street, is open until 9:00 p.m. on Third Friday. Dessert and tea is offered without reservation, and the evening tea w/food is offered with reservation only. Meanwhile, a different classical musician is invited each month to play soothing, nocturnal music to accompany the meals. Third Fridays at Bogart’s Books & Coffee Bar, located on 210 N. High Street, are exceptionally busy. Crowds of people of all ages shop for books and gather to listen to festive live bands playing genres ranging from country to jazz to folk at literally the smallest venue imaginable. The surprising attendance count is explained by co-manager Jaime Leigh Boobar, “A lot of people come here because it’s fairly cheap reading instead of paying $10 to go to the movies. And here it’s not like a library. You can come in and you can talk, and there’s live music Friday and Saturday nights.” She continued, “There’s usually many different ages here. Older people come to read as do younger people; teens come here with their friends as a place to hang out.” Gail Chiovari, manager of the Vintage Rose Tea Room, mentioned, “It is nice business on Third Fridays, especially when the weather is warmer. On Third Fridays in the spring and summer we offer lemonade, iced tea and bubble tea.”Third Friday is not the only time to catch special events from Glasstown stores. The Vintage Rose Tea Room alone has around six special events coming up. “We have the monthly Read to Me tea for children ages 4-10, which includes a different themed storybook reading each month. The event is pre-paid, and is $15 including tax and gratuity. The children get sandwiches, scones, dessert and tea. April’s theme is the ‘Princess Tea’. On the second Wednesday of every month we have Tea Time Bingo. It lasts from 7 to 9 p.m. and is also pre-paid and costs $15. We offer unlimited tea, a full-plated dish dessert with three smaller dish desserts, and the winners of the game receive prizes. There is a Tea Seminar on March 14th from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The event is pre-paid and costs $38. Lecturer Ann Latrello from “Everything Tea” will talk about the history and origin of tea, will educate people on the different kinds of tea such as black, white, oolong and green, and will reveal tips on how to make the perfect tea. In either late May or early June will be the Titanic Tea. Local author May Kent will spotlight her historical fiction novel about the Titanic. Customers will get a 5-course meal and an evening tea. Periodically we have Murder Mystery Teas, where a theatrical group performs a mystery play in the tea room. It’s a great night out for couples,” divulges Chiovari.
Furthermore, High Street stores are faring well despite the U.S. recession. “We are fortunate that there has been no decline. There’s been no negative effect from the recession, though the early part of the year is usually slower than the rest of the year, except for Valentine’s week. It gets better in the spring, as is true for most retail businesses,” elaborated the tea room’s Chiovari. Regarding the effects of the recession on Bogart’s Books, Boobar said, “The only thing that really hit us is online sales.”
Roaming High Street, whether on Third Friday or a weekday afternoon is always satisfying for aficionados of art and culture. Jim Penland of the Artist Consortium, located on 127 N. High Street, and J.B. and M.E., located on 129 N. High Street, is an artist and an art enthusiast along with Jenny Klein of the Artists House. From the almost hallucinatory stories of being a trumpet player for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus at the age of 15 to the airiness, Penland fills the role of the piquant bohemian perfectly. Artists like Penland can be found at shops such as the Amethyst Gallery, the Brush in Hand Gallery, the Full Spectrum, Green Boot Studio, Isabelle’s Studio at 135, La Bottega of Art and the Riverfront Renaissance Center. Surely, it is the characters who inhabit and own the shops in Glasstown that are as much a success story as the Glasstown community itself.