Not too many people who live in Camden County know that there are 37 individual municipalities that make up the county. Some are rather large, especially when compared to several very small towns. All 37 of these towns are expected to co-exist with each other, with their own municipal codes, police departments, fire departments, school districts, and of course, their own businesses.
Some municipalities do very well as far as attracting business. Take Marlton for example, home of the Promenade. In this shopping center, there are high class specialty stores and some of the finest restaurants around. But, that’s just one side of RT 73. Shopping centers line both sides of the highway all the way into Berlin, which also has a plethora of stores. Audubon has even managed to cram the Audubon Crossings within the 1.5 square mile borough.
In Voorhees there exists a very unique town center setup in which retail is fused with living spaces. Such a layout exists both at Voorhees Town Center and Cooper Towne Center in Somerdale, located maybe five minutes from Voorhees’ center. Then of course is the Eagle Plaza, which sits at the edge of Cherry Hill, but is still within Voorhees.
Speaking of Cherry Hill, who can ignore the Mall? It is an indoor shopping experience and supposedly it is “South Jersey’s fashion destination”, as well as having several fine dining choices in the parking lot. Just down the road is Market Place at Garden State Park, which includes retail and living spaces. Then of course, Cherry Hill also has the Ellisberg and Barclay shopping centers to offer.
I really could go on, noting the main street developments in Haddonfield and Collingswood, or the soon to come, tax abatement-sponsored development in Gloucester Township. But in the end, it is very important to realize why there are so many shopping districts within a seemingly close distance in Camden County. Very simply, these shopping and living districts exist because they sell to the needs and desires of the communities that surround them.
So, this makes me beg the question; Why are there no such movements for the City of Camden? Surely, in fact I know, such shopping destinations and community areas are wanted by Camden residents. I remember an exercise that I participated in during a “college field trip” with former Rutgers-Camden Chancellor Wendell Pritchett. We visited elementary school students in 2012 at Coopers Poynt, and we asked the students what they would like to see if their neighborhood was redeveloped. The boys collectively wanted sports stores that sold nice hats and sneakers, and the girls wanted a Justice store and some places to get their nails painted. Both the boys and the girls said they wanted a movie theatre. These were instantaneous desires for these young Camden residents, and I’m certain that similar desires are held by their parents and grandparents too. After all, it would make the day a lot easier knowing that it would no longer be necessary to leave the city in order to go shopping.
So, again, I must beg another question; Why is the State of New Jersey pledging $40 million for the citizens of Gloucester Township to shop in places they’d want to shop, while also pledging another round of hundreds of millions of EOA approved dollars for Camden residents to again receive the things they do not want, and won’t benefit from?
I hope that the developments coming to the waterfront lead to many possibilities for Camden residents to have the places and the things that they want for their own community. For now it just seems like some big businesses and entities got a free ride into Camden on tax payers’ backs. To continue a trend that started in the 1990’s with the $100 million foundations of the aquarium and battleship, then continued in 2002 with the $175 million MRERA, hundreds of millions of state tax payer dollars are being sent to Camden in the form of relocating enterprises and sports teams to “bring it back”, but there still lacks an immediate (or any) benefit to residents to in fact bring the city back. One last question:
For whom, exactly, are we bringing Camden back?