McGinley Square Business Owners Ready For Change

By Hazel Sharper and Christopher Williams


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Image by Hazel Sharper

Jersey City is one of 12 cities chosen for Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Innovation teams. The idea is to make the cities more appealing and according to their mission “ensure, longer lives for the greatest number of people.”

Bloomberg Philanthropies focus on five key areas, including: public health, environment, education, government innovation and the arts. The Jersey City Office of Innovation was awarded $2.25 million that will be used to help solve Jersey City’s “most complicated local issues”. The I-team’s main responsibility is to create solutions to improve the lives of those in the community, in addition to advancing Jersey City according to their website.

The Jersey City Office of Innovation’s initial focus is on revitalizing the struggling commercial areas by helping them develop into successful beautiful areas. The team will provide more hands on support for small business owners. The end goal is to attract more customers.

McGinley Square is one area that will see these changes. The I-team is helping business owners by creating a place for them to get information, resources and ask questions. They will also create a website where business owners can look up these things for quick access.

“Diana”, who opened up “Diana’s Chicken Shack” in August of 2014, spoke highly of the city’s plans. She believes it will have a positive impact for her business and she’s excited for the upcoming changes.

“They plan on constructing a lot of tall buildings which will attract people from New York to move here,” said Diana. “Overall it’ll be very good, which is why I decided to stay in this area.”

Diana isn’t the only business owner who had positive things to say about the planned changes to Jersey City. Nepil De La Rosa, owner of Market Furniture on Bergen Ave feels the same.

“It’s going to be good because the area is going to be cleaner,” said De La Rosa. “We’re going to attract more people that doesn’t feel comfortable coming to this area. By doing those changes, we’re going to have a lot more people coming into the store.”

Haytham Elgawly, owner of the Clearport, is especially excited for the changes.

Elgawly is opening up an airplane designed clothing store on Bergen Ave that has everything you would see in an airport, including a body scanner that scans how you would look with the clothes you picked out, arrival/departure times signaling the day’s other clothing brands would “land” inside, and even chairs that you would see in an airport. Amongst all of this, are of course clothes. May 21st will be the grand opening for his store and he believes his business will thrive as the future of Jersey City looks to change.

“How do I think that will affect business? The question is ‘how do I think my business will affect them?’” replied Elgawly. “I’m bringing something that no one has ever seen into the mix. I had a meeting with the Office of Innovation in the past and I know what they’re looking for and I feel we can all work together amazingly, and bring this city to the light it deserves to be.”

For more information on the upcoming changes from the Office of Innovation, you can visit their website at You can visit Diana’s Chicken Shack at 775 Bergen Ave, Market Furniture at 779 Bergen Ave, and the Clearport at 759A

Close up: Lee Simms Chocolates

Lee Simms Chocolates has been located been on Bergen Avenue in the same storefront for 65 years. The family owned business takes pride in what they do and where they are located because they have been around for four generations. 

The current owner, Valerie Vlahakis, was originally a school teacher, but decided to leave the profession to join the family business in the late 1980’s. Since her family is originally from Staten Island, she explains that her sister also decided to join the family business in the 80’s and opened a storefront on the Island.

“Everything comes out of the same kitchen which I do the cooking for”, says Valerie, something customers can take comfort in and appreciate because they know who is making their treats.

After hearing about the upgrades that might be coming to McGinley Square, Valerie still has no worries for her business because of how well they have handled everything in the past. Her only wish is that McGinley Square does not lose the “flavor” that makes the community special. She does not want to see major chain restaurant corporations because she likes the individuality of the other businesses and the people who make up the community.

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Image by Hazel Sharper

There have been changes to Bergen Ave and the community around them throughout the years, but they have always been able to adapt. With the help of each generation, Lee Simms has evolved and has become a business that many individuals and corporations all over the nation have come to love and trust.

If you would like to visit Lee Simms their New Jersey location is 743 Bergen Ave Jersey City, NJ, also visit their website at Lee Simms Chocolate NJ and their Staten Island location is 422 Manor Road Staten Island, New York website is Lee Simms Staten Island