On Saturday, April 22nd, shops in the usually sleepy town of Belvidere clamored with hundreds of people asking the same question: “Do you have any seeds left?
It’s a testament to the resounding success of the town’s first-ever Seed Trail event. A
collaborative effort organized by the owners of Belvidere’s many independent shops, the free event celebrated Earth Day with a seed scavenger hunt.
Participants in the Seed Trail followed a map that directed them to ten participating businesses around Belvidere. The first 100 visitors to each store received a free seed packet and visitors to all ten stores entered a drawing for a grand prize gift basket with items from all of the stores.
The event began at 10 a.m. Liz Kemp, owner of The Mill on Mill Street, estimated that she ran out of seed packets by 12:30. Though there was no official attendance tally, shop owners guessed that between 200 and 250 people attended.
“It was amazing,” said Kryssi Zamorsky, owner of Bella’s Boutique. “I’ve never seen this many people in Belvidere. It was great to see people walking around. And there were so many people that lived in Belvidere that said they have never come down to any of the stores that actually came out just today.”
Though Belvidere has no official business district, the shop owners have built their own
community. The event honored not only Earth Day, but Belvidere’s emerging presence as a hub for artists and independent boutiques.
“It’s Earth Day, right, and you want to give back to the community,” said Heather Marzigliano, owner of Rustic Retail Market. “You want to give back to the environment, you want to give back to the earth… it all ties together. And we just wanted to do something uplifting to build roots. So seeds are literal roots right?”
Riley Lance, owner of the Stone Gnome, marveled at how quickly the Seed Trail came together.
“This event in particular, we planned in about a month,” she said. “I think we just had an ability to really come together quickly and realize that we’re all individual business owners but the wellbeing of the town is all of our business. Bringing people into the town is definitely a priority for everybody. And this town is wonderful. So, it’s been really great.”
With some support from the Neighborhood Preservation Program, Belvidere’s informal
alliance of businesses, the event was organized by dividing planning and marketing tasks among its members.
This kind of collaborative spirit has been missing from Belvidere for some time, according to several residents. Attendee David Hosterman noted that Belvidere’s business community has had its ups and downs over the years.
“I’ve seen this as a thriving town where every storefront was filled,” he said, “and I’ve seen the downtimes where there were a lot of empty storefronts.”
Laura Ward Malizzi, owner of Infloressense, agreed. “I can’t tell you how many people have said to me that for thirty years they thought this was gonna be the next New Hope,” she said. “And then it always just petered out. Businesses couldn’t sustain.”
But this time? “It’s really going through a renaissance,” she predicted.
A casual visitor can see it in the number of new businesses in town. Participating Seed Trail. Shops ranged from somewhat new to extremely new.
The shops with the longest tenure, Bella’s Boutique and Rustic Retail Market, have been open for three years. Infloressence has been open for a year and four months, the Mill on Mill Street has been open for two months but the youngest business, Riley Lance’s The Stone Gnome, celebrated its grand opening day on Earth Day itself.
Lance had the honor of picking the winner of the grand prize at the end of the day. Out of over 50 people who had completed the Seed Trail, Lynn Rutledge of Mount Bethel was the lucky winner.
Belvidere’s business owners closed for the day with elation and hope for the future. ”I think it was a great success,” said Ronni Stroessenreuther, co-owner of Frank’s Rough Cut Lumber. “We learned a lot, and hopefully we’ll have more events this year.”
Beyond next year’s Seed Trail, many hope that the event’s success signals a brighter future for Belvidere itself. “It has a lot of potential to be a booming river town,” said Lance. “And to not be as overlooked as it is, because a lot of people came in today and they’re like, I had no idea that this town was so beautiful.”
“It’s so walkable… it’s gorgeous. The buildings are awesome. I mean, we have hundreds of Victorian homes that are hundreds of years old… So, yeah, I think there’s a lot to offer here,” Lance said.
Chip O'Chang, Contributing Writer
Chip O'Chang is an educator, fiction writer, and lifelong resident of New Jersey. He has also written for My Life Publications and NJ Indy. He lives in the NJ Skylands with his partner, two cats, and and a bearded dragon.