We’d rather have e-bikes on our streets than FedEx trucks

We’ve all seen the stories of how the pandemic is impacting small businesses around the country—and the corresponding stories of how Amazon is growing larger at their expense. Here’s how one South Jersey town is taking an interesting approach to supporting their small business community by taking a page from the logistics behemoth. 

In January 2021, Collingswood, NJ launched a new program called Collingswood Prime. This program paired small businesses with a minority-owned e-bike delivery company called Bloc Delivery, to deliver products from those businesses to residents in town, two days per week. Historically, Collingswood has had a thriving downtown business that includes a small grocery store, as well as pet stores, music shops, kitchen supplies and a comic book store. 

In an interview, Collingswood Commissioner Rob Lewandowski talked to me about the genesis of the program. 

“We really see that part of the role of local government in business development is inviting people into our downtown—in normal times, that looks like pedestrian planning, throwing community events, improving accessibility, things like that. When COVID hit, we were presented with this hurdle—we’re telling people not to shop in person, so how do we get them to shop local, when they’re buying everything online? We’re telling store owners they have to limit how many people are in their store—how do we help them reach more customers online?

“Our traditional model wasn’t useful during the pandemic, so we reallocated our event budget to promoting local businesses in other ways. We think it’s much better for our town to have people buying things locally and having them delivered in an environmentally sustainable way, instead of having our streets crowded with FedEx and UPS trucks that are delivering things from far away warehouses.”

Collingswood Prime is a partnership between the town’s Business Improvement District and an employee-owned delivery service, Bloc Delivery. Customers are charged a transaction fee, on top of the cost of their purchase, which goes directly to the delivery company to pay for the delivery—that is not shared with either the businesses or the town government, instead it goes directly to the workers who own the delivery service. For its part, the township added a page to their website, advertising all the stores that are involved in the program and giving people a taste of what they sell, to help promote online shopping and local delivery.

“Our hope is that this continues past the pandemic,” Lewandowski told me.  “While residents can’t meet every single one of their needs by buying local, we want to show people that a lot of things that they buy are available in town, and we want them to keep relying on local stores when the need for social distancing and limits for how many people can shop in person is over.”

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