With pillared porches, pristine brick sidewalks, and locally crafted streetlamps - 54 in all - the center of Medford certainly is a beautiful place.
Particularly if you overlook the scarcity of pedestrians and the relative abundance of "for rent" signs.
" 'The Village' has always had its own character - very family-oriented, very small town," notes Mayor Jeffrey Beenstock, who uses the traditional name for the charming, 19th-century commercial crossroads at Main and Union Streets.
"But it also has been perceived as kind of struggling," the mayor continues. "We want to bring in businesses that really draw people and make it a place where people gather."
Dion Travia bought an established store called Wonder World Toys in May, but he's concerned that former retail locations are giving way to offices.
"We're losing storefronts," he says. "I'm sad when I look out my window and see a store closing."
That would be Refined on Main, the unusual gift emporium that township resident Karen Yang opened four years ago. She's planning to shut down Dec. 23.
"The biggest challenge is there's not enough foot traffic. There's not enough retail," Yang says. "On one Saturday, I did not have a single transaction. I tried everything."
Besides its handsome architecture and distinctive ambience, the Village is home to the Medford Arts Center and a former Friends meetinghouse the township would like to see become a performance space.
There are several popular restaurants, new and long-established - Braddock's Tavern has been in business for well more than a century - and parking is free.
Medford has designated the Village as an area in need of redevelopment, opening the door for tax abatements and other development incentives. And developers have expressed interest, township officials say.
"We want to become a destination. We need more restaurants, and a mix of retail," Beth A. Portocalis the township's director of business and residential relations, says.
"Our long-range plan is to build a new municipal building and library," adds Portocalis, whom I meet at the current, circa 1847, township office building on North Main.
"This building is actually [composed of] two houses. It would make good private office space," she notes, adding, "The existing library building could be a really nice restaurant."
With a population of about 23,000 in a nearly 40-square-mile area - much of it within the Pinelands - the Burlington County township is a suburb with a country flavor.
"One of the reasons I opened here four years ago is because our brand has a kind of retro, rural feel," says Joe Johnston, owner of a bustling shop called Harvest Coffee Roastery.
"There were a lot of vacancies when we came, but there are fewer now," adds Johnston. "We stuck it out, and we've grown. Now we have a larger roaster, in a warehouse, in the Village. I live in the Village, too."
The area around Main and Union is eminently walkable for local residents. But the Village is a bit off the beaten track.
The nearest NJ Transit bus line is on Route 70, a busy highway that's also something of a barrier for access by residents to the north, including 600 units of 55-and-over housing.
Village merchants also have competition from the larger, more destination-type retailers on commercial stretches of 70 and Stokes Road.
And the loss of an animal-feed and pet-food store called Kirby Bros., a 140-year-old institution that closed early this year, is still being felt.
Nevertheless, business is good at Wonder World Toys, Travia says.
"I just loved the uniqueness of the store, and the uniqueness of Medford," he says. "I'm extremely pleased so far."
Township officials say a half-dozen festivals annually do draw big crowds to the Village. They hope to attract a bakery, and perhaps a co-op space for artists, to the mix of offerings there.
Medford also is building bike trails that will eventually connect to the Village, and promoting itself as a "business-friendly" community.
Yang, who's looking forward to traveling once she's no longer behind the counter at Refined on Main, says she would "love to see" the Village come back.
"I'm glad I gave the store a try," she says. "I wish the town the best."
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