"The biggest challenge I think is convincing people to come downtown on Saturdays," said Alizar "Nick" Zorojew, Executive Director of the Toms River Business Improvement District, but he's hoping to end the perception that it's a ghost town outside of the work week.

Shawn Michaels, Townsquare Media

"A lot of people say that there's really nothing going on downtown, and that may have been true in the past," he said.

Zorojew pointed out that upstairs from Mean Bean Burritos and Beyond on Main Street is the banquet hall One Flight Up. It turns into a bi-monthly pop up club called The Listening Room.

"They have local music and they bring in bands from national tours, and they usually have  a local artist with a visual aspect to the night," Zorojew said.

Several new businesses also have moved in on Main Street, including Time for All Seasons lunch cafe, Cafe Enigma, and Perfect Swing Golf in the former Harris Clothing building.

The Toms River BID also is accepting applications for prospective entrepreneurs for The Shops @53 Main, an incubator for start-ups, which has space available, according to Zorojew. The agency purchased the building more than two years ago, which housed the former Tommy's Restaurant, and renovated the building.

Current retails include Scrubs to Go for nurses, which Zorojew noted recently opened there, Gorgeous Girls Boutique, The Locket Closet, Ocean Organics satellite store, and Van Go Pottery, which Zorojew pointed out is knocking down a wall to add more classes.

Bringing retail to downtown is challenging, but providing a low barrier to entry option is helping entrepreneurs find their footing, according to Zorojew.

"We don't want businesses just to come down and survive. We want to see them thrive, grow and outgrow this space, and hopefully graduate to a regular, major storefront," said Zorojew.

Office crowds during the week help generate foot traffic as well as students from nearby Toms River High School South. Zorojew, who graduated from TRS, joked that he grew up on Capone's Pizza.

"The certainly fuel a lo of the lunch business for the restaurants down here, but at the end of the day it's not just South's downtown, it's everyone's downtown, so we are working on some programs with the high schools, and hope to launch a mural project in the next year or two, to try to get each high school involved down here," said Zorojew.

Zorojew pointed out high schools are already involved downtown through the voluneteer TEAM (Together Everyone Achieves More) program.

"It benefits us by sending volunteers down to help us run our major events on Washington Street, like the Chili Cook-off, the Summer in the Street Festival, and the Harvest Festival," Zorojew said.

The Toms River BID organizes Toms River's annual tree lighting outside Town Hall, scheduled for this Friday.

Parking issues in the past are improving with a new meter system, according to Zorojew. Rates have gone up for people who are staying all day, but Zorojew noted 20 minute parking is free, and hourly rates are minimal compared to the downtown in Point Pleasant Beach and Asbury Park.

"What it has created for us now, is there's a significant amount of turnover, and you can now find a spot on the street throughout the day, and in the mornings," Zorojew said.

Contact reporter Dianne DeOliveira at Dianne.DeOliveira@townsquaremedia.com.

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