By Liz Johnson

The Coronavirus spring shutdown did little to dampen the enthusiasm of Hunterdon County entrepreneurs who have launched new ventures over the past six months.

“We’ve been blown away by the initial reaction,” said Annette Earling of Humble Café which opened in Lambertville on Main Street on March 6th. “Once the pandemic hit, we had so much support for a new business, people buying gift cards or consistently placing orders. Everyone is working to keep each other afloat.”

Humble Café is an art gallery and plant-based café and bakery. It’s open weekends from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. with outdoor seating. Like many business owners, Earling is looking for new ways to do business in response to the virus and the restrictions that surround it.

“We’re thinking of transitioning to grab-and-go refrigerated items in the winter. We’re still kicking around ideas.”

“I have so much interest. People come in here and hang out for a couple of hours. They need that right now.”
– Betty-Baines Saum, Owner of Hawk and Floret

Betty-Baines Saum, owner of Hawk and Floret, an upcycle boutique that opened in Frenchtown in March, is considering offering a seasonal subscription gift box as one way to generate sales during the pandemic.

The retail store is one of two businesses she operates – the other is event planning. “Thank god I had this new project. Even though these times are tough, there’s so much to be grateful for.”

Saum has been in retail for more than 20 years, she said. Ultimately, she hopes to offer artists workshops. For now, she’s starting a small healing circle.

Photos of the new Art Parlour in Frenchtown.

Sandra Dillon opened her new Frenchtown gallery The Art Parlour in early August after leasing her Front Street space in February.

“It allowed me time to figure out visually what the space should look like and what I wanted to achieve,” said the Frenchtown-based artist. On Aug. 20th, the gallery will host New York City photographer Luke Ratray in a show called Mermaid Parade in Coney Island, a retrospective of photograph’s he’s taken of the popular, annual event which was cancelled this year because of COVID-19.

In addition to art, Dillon will sell antiques and handmade jewelry.

Renee Olson opened her shop Sublime several weeks ago on Bridge Street in Frenchtown. It offers a mix of mid-modern furniture, academic oddities such as 7-foot anatomy posters and cards with literary whimsy.

“What links everything together is a sense of cleverness, a sense of humor,” said Olson, a former writer and editor.

She set up shop in Frenchtown hoping to tap the “creative class” she believes will flock to ArtYard showings when the theater and avant-garde art exhibition space opens.

Already, she’s seeing Coronavirus-weary travelers from New York in search of a day out visiting the river town.

Astrologer James Jacob Pierri is opening Auset Gypsy between Sublime and Hunterdon Happening List Winner Junto Emporium, a men’s clothing consignment shop.

In addition to readings – from Tarot cards to palmistry – he’ll be selling his own line of organic perfumes, colognes, essential oils, tinctures, teas and t-shirts. He’ll also be offering classes and workshops.

Pierri has been telling fortunes for more than 20 years. He got his start at Universal Studio’s Island of Adventure, where he also served as one of the Orlando theme park’s spokespeople. That opportunity introduced him to a slew of celebrities, leading him to start an event planning venture.
Most recently he had a store in Easton, which he shut down in mid-March, opting to reopen in Frenchtown.

“I knew it was a good fit. It has all the touches I’m looking for. I know I can make magic here,” said Pierri (on opening in Frenchtown).

Pierri will be launching his own Tarot card deck this fall.

Galasso’s Pizza, a popular Frenchtown eatery that was closed more than a year ago when a truck careened into the building, will reopen in October at the Hunterdon Hills Plaza off Route 22 in Lebanon, said co-owner Joe DiCarlo.
There will be more seating in the new location, along with the ability to offer wood-burning oven pizza in addition to its well-loved menu.
DiCarlo said he’s hoping Gov. Phil Murphy will allow indoor seating of at least 50 percent capacity by the time the restaurant opens. Nonetheless, it will at least begin by offering takeout food.

“We were in Frenchtown for 11 years,” he said. “We missed the people, our clients. “

Business partners and lifelong friends, Bob Drinane (left) and Eric Luque (right) are pictured outside of 19 Royal Road in Flemington, the home of Flemington Pickleball Club, slated to open in mid-September.

For those feeling cooped up by COVID-19, childhood friends, sports enthusiasts, and long-time Hunterdon residents Bob Drinane and Eric Luque will open Flemington Pickleball Club, Hunterdon County’s first indoor pickleball-only facility, in mid-September.  Located at 19 Royal Road,the 11,000-square-foot facility will have 5-indoor pickleball courts with 20-foot ceilings and touchless bathrooms.

“We redid the bathrooms to make them safe,” said Bob Drinane. “And we may have to start by using every other court” to provide space between teams to meet Centers for Disease Control guidelines.

Pickle ball, which allows for both exercise and social distancing, is one of the activities recommended as COVID-19 safe by the CDC.

Already he’s seeing people signing up to play.

“I think people are looking for a safe way to do things with their family.”
– Bob Drinane, Co-Owner of Flemington Pickleball Club

“There are definitely businesses moving forward in this county,” said Hunterdon County Economic DevelopmentDirector Marc Saluk. “Things have certainly not come to a standstill.”

He said his office is fielding as many calls this year as last year from people “looking to invest in Hunterdon County.”

To aid local retailers, the county will be launching a marketing campaign geared to promoting Main Streets, he said.

“I don’t want to minimize the pain, but we’re looking to come out of this pandemic strong.”

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