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The Somerville Business and Professional Association Loosened the Jar

Board members supporting the community at one of the SBPA Somerville Street Fairs. SBPA Treasurer Lorraine Sarra (front center) has been volunteering to support businesses for 30 years.

It was great to see that Ellen Brain, the new Republican Mayor of Somerville, has a sense of fiscal responsibility while understanding what is needed to drive business for merchants in town rather than destroy them.

Local business owners are at a tremendous disadvantage when competing with malls and online businesses. The parking situation in Somerville always presented an additional hurdle.

When the Downtown Somerville Alliance (DSA) and BOOM, a group of local merchants organized to have the parking rate increases in town repealed, Mayor Brain reacted swiftly, peeling back the hikes to  benefit Somerville and the surrounding areas.

The efforts of the DSA and BOOM are without question, deserving of accolades. A recent article in Tapinto Somerville, “Somerville Merchants Endorse Plan to Reduce Parking Lot Fees.” outlined their hard fought victory.

However, there is a  backstory regarding the Somerville Business and Professional Association (SBPA) that has been ignored. The story deserves to be mentioned, not only because this generous nonprofit was the first to valiantly try to prevent the hike, but also because it serves as a reminder to us all that we cannot meekly allow elected officials to decide our fate. We cannot always mop up a mess.

For those in the community who do not know who the SBPA is, it’s a small nonprofit operating in town whose mission is to support local merchants and the community. The SBPA is responsible for many events in town that contribute to the unique experience that is Somerville. Events include the horse drawn Carriage rides during Christmas, photos with Santa, Strolling Carolers& Musicians, the Arts and Crafts fair and both the Spring and Fall street fairs. In addition, the SBPA sponsors other town events such as the Tour of Somerville, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and others. Many students in town have enjoyed SBPA scholarships while organizations such as the Somerville Rescue Squad, the Women’s Shelter and others have received generous donations.

Surprising, isn’t it? This little known nonprofit operates quietly while doing so much for Somerville and the surrounding area.

Well, it’s time that the SBPA and the merchants who comprise this organization got some credit. It could be argued that the SBPA loosened the jar for this big win for residents and merchants in Somerville.

The humble nonprofit was all over this issue from day one. The SBPA sounded the alarm and rounded up the community to fight the parking rate hike.

When the SBPA first caught wind of the proposed rate hike they quickly reached out to local merchants and the community. They were able to put together a  good sized crowd to show up at the boro meeting. Sadly, the council did not budge for IMO, two reasons:

  1. Denial and complacency. Had local merchants and residents fully understood the impact of the rate hike, more people would have been involved. Instead, they swallowed the hike as inevitable and didn’t bother to fight it.
  2. Arrogance. It’s entirely possible that the town’s leadership figured that once the rate hike was approved people would grumble, but go back to business as usual, accepting the bitter pill with the quiet desperation that government greed feeds on.

Had the DSA and members of BOOM reacted with the same passion and sense of urgency that they showed once the damage was done, it would never have reached this point. This is not meant to be derogatory, but more a statement about human nature. To their credit they didn’t cave to human nature and simply accept the results, but fought to correct them.

So while the efforts of the DSA and the merchants are praiseworthy, this backstory regarding the efforts of the SBPA and its members has been ignored. The story serves as a wakeup call.

And it just seemed that it was time to give some credit where credit is due.

To see the letter to the editor in Tapinto Somerville click here….

SBPA Elects New Officers; 4 Scholarships Offered to Somerville Students

SOMERVILLE, NJ – Longtime downtown merchant Lorraine Sarra has been elected president of the Somerville Business & Professional Association.

Sarra, now retired, sold her women’s lingerie store, Beneath It All, in 2014. Formerly located on West Main Street, the store is now on Division Street under new ownership.

Elected vice president was last year’s SBPA president James O’Gorman, Financial Resources, Route 22; secretary, John Harrity of the Somerville School of Music; and treasurer, Wendy Ewen, manager of the Provident Bank branch at 62 W. Main St.

Elected to the Board of Directors are Jan Lush, Big Little Railroad Shop; Ann Marie Woodward, Fulton Bank; Mike Ivers, Hansel & Griddle restaurant; Paul Sanford retired from Sanford Jewelers; Val Gibson, Seniors Arts & Crafters, and Jessica Dale, JC Maintenance & Cleaning Co.

Sarra has been a member of the SBPA since she opened her store in 1994 and served as treasurer of the organization for 10 years. Her late husband Bill Sarra was executive director of the SBPA for several years before retiring in 2006.

“The SBPA membership has always supported the town,” Sarra said. “We plan to put into place an aggressive membership campaign which will strengthen our resources and help the SBPA do even more for the merchants and community,” she added.

The SBPA is a private, non-profit voluntary membership organization comprised of business owners representatives, professionals, individuals and community groups whose primary  goal is to make Somerville a better place for  the public and its members to conduct business.