Esther Williams is a New Jersey licensed optician and owner of City Eyes, an optical retail store on Broadway next to Cooper University Hospital in Camden, New Jersey. Williams sees small businesses as integral to building healthy neighborhoods in Camden, and so she’s willing to help other small business owners find their niche there.
“I want to be known for being a community optical. City hall workers could come here, professionals from the hospital, doctors, everyone will know this optical is open for them. There are people that live in the city, and then you get some 40-60% flux in population during the business hours with people that come to the city. We could be valuable to that population, but also to the neighborhood population so they don’t have to catch the bus to go to Cherry Hill or Philadelphia. They can come right here to a neighborhood optical,” explains Williams.
Williams made a deliberate decision to locate her business in this part of Camden. “There is no other optical store in Camden. There are three immediate doctors around me, but there is no optical store. I’ve connected myself with Cooper, the biggest entity in Camden, just by my location. For myself, I don’t think I would have been able to start this business off if I had not been connected in this area of the city. I think it would have been a lot harder for me to made it this far.”
Doing extensive research and forming partnerships with businesses and organizations also made the process of opening a business easier. “The initial process was probably about a year of just doing demographic homework — finding out who’s in the city, the major traffic on the highway, that kind of thing and then doing homework about how to start up the actual business. I know friends of mine who are opticians who own their own franchise store. I reached out to them.”
Esther also points to a partnership with Broadway Main Street, a part of the Greater Camden Partnership, as instrumental in supporting her as a first time small business owner. “They help us anywhere from the direction we need to go when we got to city hall, to lighting, to logo for your signage, just a host of things.” She also works with the organization to help other commercial corridor retailers by hosting business owner meetings. “We bring together the businesses that are in the area so that we can come up with ideas of how we can become more successful, how we can partner to let each other know about the businesses that are here. And sometimes you just need to be with people who understand what you are going through.”
As far as Camden’s negative reputation, Esther says, “I can’t be naïve. I’m cognizant of the fact that there are some negatives to the city, but then there were negatives to Voorhees,” the New Jersey town she worked in for years. “It’s just when the spotlight is put more on one area than on the other, it just stands out. That is the difference.”