Kevin Riordan: Woodbury seeks to boost its profile and build its brand

Workers finish up inside the new County Seat Diner in Woodbury. "Woodbury was a historic town center. That was the identity that was stolen from it," consultant Cindy Williams says.
Workers finish up inside the new County Seat Diner in Woodbury. "Woodbury was a historic town center. That was the identity that was stolen from it," consultant Cindy Williams says. (APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 21, 2012

Woodbury was trying to revitalize its downtown when I was a young reporter there in 1980, and this likable little city hasn't stopped trying since.

So I'm tempted to suggest "Woodbury: The Work's Never Done" as a new slogan for the Gloucester County seat.

Fortunately, civic leaders have a better idea. They're asking citizens, businesspeople, and others to help them come up with the best way to "brand" Woodbury.

The timing looks auspicious: New dining spots are opening; $26,000 has been raised to install a handsome clock at the former train station on Railroad Avenue; and the vacant G.G. Green building on Broad Street is being saved from demolition.

"The branding project is a great idea," says Woodbury-born Mayor Ron Riskie, 63.

"We want to get to the root and the heart of what Woodbury really is," explains Ronda Abbruzzese, the city's economic-development director. "We don't want to be Collingswood or somewhere else. We want to be Woodbury."

The 24-week project will be paid for with a $20,000 grant from the Main Street New Jersey program at the N.J. Department of Community Affairs. Main Street funds downtown revitalization efforts in participating communities statewide.

Cindy Williams, a consultant who has worked with downtown revitalization efforts in Hammonton and Bridgeton, will oversee a series of public meetings to help produce a new logo, slogan, and multimedia marketing plan for central Woodbury.

"We don't have any preconceived ideas, and that's intentional," says Williams, whose design studio is in Berlin Borough. "We want to get responses and reactions from people who live there."

So what does she mean by a new "brand" for Woodbury?

"A brand is really an identity that's encapsulated for today's communications and media," Williams explains. "Woodbury was a historic town center. That was the identity that was stolen from it."

With a population of 10,500 in its two square miles, Woodbury offers history, pretty parks, and plenty of trees. Urban and suburban neighborhoods radiate from either side of Broad Street, where elements of an old-fashioned Main Street and a commuter highway collide (sometimes literally).

Sadly, downtown has dwindled since 1970, when the Deptford Mall opened in the next town over. Empty storefronts are everywhere, and plans for a Bottom Dollar discount supermarket, the biggest retailer to hit town in years, have sparked opposition from some residents.

A much warmer welcome has been given to Frank Filipek and his business partners, who opened a stylish BYOB called Marlene Mangia Bene on Broad Street in August.

"So far, so good," Filipek says. "I'm in favor of anything that's going to promote the downtown area. Woodbury can be so much more."

Larry Geiger heads the nonprofit group Main Street Woodbury, which is working with the city on the branding project.

He's nothing if not enthusiastic about the potential of Broad Street and its downtown tributaries. But he's also realistic.

"You hear from people who say, 'We've already tried that.' Or, 'Good luck with that,' " he says. "We're fighting an awful lot of skepticism.

"But this isn't just about a catchy slogan, or a logo," he adds. "At the end, we'll have a comprehensive marketing program. Investors want to see a town that knows who it is, and where it's going, a town that can help them promote their business."

The mayor, a history buff who's particularly proud of the new clock, would love to see it become part of the new brand. Others have suggested "Woodbury Green," which manages to suggest both a pioneering municipal recycling system, and the 19th-century G.G. Green patent medicine company that put the city on the map.

"We don't know yet" what the brand will be, says Williams.

But when the process is completed, Abbruzzese says, "whenever you think of Woodbury, you'll think of what this brand is."


Contact staff writer Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845, kriordan@phillynews.com, or @inqkriordan on Twitter. Read the metro columnists' blog, "Blinq," at http://www.philly.com/blinq

|
|
|
|
|