New businesses thrive at Railroad Place

Women entrepreneurs are a driving force for its success.

By: John Tredrea
   The commercial life of Hopewell Borough’s Railroad Place is booming these days. A number of the businesses on that street are run by women who say the magnetic power of the borough’s renovated railroad station and "women helping women" are two of the big reasons why things are going so well.
   "The train station brings a lot of people to this part of town. It’s really helped business," said Jennifer Laing, co-owner, with Fred Bedard, of the Shear Madness Hair Salon at 11 Railroad Place.
   "More people are on the street because of the train station, and it really has made a difference to us," agreed Debbie Varrasse, whose custom embroidery business Fancy Threads is 16 years old. The last nine of those years have been at 31 Railroad Place. Prior to that, she was in the Pennytown Shopping Village on Route 31 in Hopewell Township.
   The renovation of the borough’s striking-looking Victorian train station was completed several years ago. Based on what the four Railroad Place businesswomen said during a coffee break in Taste of the Town the morning of June 11, it seems certain the hope of borough officials that the renovation of the train station would give the town’s vitality a boost has come to pass.
   Taste of the Town, which serves breakfast and lunch, is owned by Arianna Parsons and she was in quite a good mood for two reasons. She had recently acquired ownership of the business, which she had been managing since October. "And now we can start serving espresso and cappuccino and other specialty coffees," she said. "The machine for making them was delivered yesterday."
   While an undergraduate at the College of New Jersey, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in business management, Ms. Parsons worked part time at Seward Johnson’s restaurant, Rat’s, in Hamilton.
   "While I was working at Rat’s, they opened Taste of the Town and offered me the job of managing it, which I accepted," she said.
   Chiropractor Anne Marie Grimaldi, whose business Monetti Family Chiropractic is at 27 Railroad Place, said Ms. Varrasse’s help was a big factor in her setting up shop on the street, where she’s been for four years.
   "I’ve always loved Hopewell Borough, the look and feel of it," Ms. Grimaldi said. "When I was growing up in South Brunswick, our family would drive through Hopewell on our way to New Hope, which we visited regularly on the weekends.
   "I was here one day on Railroad Place and heard country music coming out of Deb Varrasse’s store. I had just finished chiropractic school in South Carolina, where you hear a lot of country music, needless to say, and it just clicked. Deb let me set up my table in her shop, to help me get started here."
   "We’re just women who are working our businesses so we can help take care of our families," said Ms. Varrasse, who got started in the embroidery business by hawking her wares at youth sporting events in and around Hopewell Valley. "I did that to get my name out there," she said. "I knew nothing about it when I got started; I learned from research and by just doing it. I did the embroidery myself, so I knew I could get it done on time. I did it out of my house at first. It’s a great business."
   Ms. Laing noted that the first Railroad Place Block Party was June 13 and will be part of the ongoing effort to maintain the commercial momentum of the Railroad Place area.
   "We hope to do it every year, to help people find out who’s here and what’s available," she said.
   "This is the best time of my life," summed up Ms. Grimaldi. "My career is set. I’m working in a good place surrounded by good people doing good things."