Potter Offers Handmade Creations on Asbury Boardwalk

Asbury Park boardwalk has  weathered many ups and downs

Asbury Park boardwalk has weathered many ups and downs

Will Asbury Park’s long-awaited, oft-failed renaissance finally happen this time?

If it does, Greg LaPlaca, owner of LaPlaca Pottery Works, will be one of the people to thank. He’s been selling pottery and other handmade goods for eight years in Asbury and he is a proud member of  this “little community.”

“We need to keep it local, boutiquey,” says the Belmar-born potter. “That’s what makes it Asbury. I know a lot of my customers.” If chain stores move in to the town, “Why come here over any other beach?”

The entrepreneur, teacher and artist sold his wood-fired and pit-fired creations in Asbury Park and Point Pleasant until Superstorm Sandy rolled through in October 2012.

LaPlaca with one of his unique Face Jugs

LaPlaca with one of his unique Face Jugs

He’d moved his Asbury store from Cookman Avenue to the boardwalk in 2007, then got clobbered by Sandy five years later. After the store flooded, he was forced to rip out the sheetrock and rebuild. Insurance covered nothing because the damage came from the ocean, excluded from his coverage, which he’s since cancelled. No power and a curfew shut down his pottery classes in Point Pleasant. He now uses his Point location as a workshop. Asbury, though, is completely open, and LaPlaca is hoping for a strong summer season to make up for the many lost months of traffic while the boardwalk was closed.

“The worst thing was the town put a fence up and left it, putting me out of business until April,” he said. He had some tables in convention hall, but still lost Christmas business.

LaPlaca’s store was recognized as “best of NJ” for gift shops by New Jersey Monthly magazine in 2011 and 2012 and by the Asbury Park Press Readers’ Choice contest for favorite art gallery in 2012. Ninety percent of the store’s offerings he makes himself. His mother produces quilted and crocheted bags that LaPlaca sells along with his seaglass jewelry, (Asbury Park icon) ‘Tillie’ memorabilia and his own photography. Novelty soaps come from visits to a brother living in Hawaii.

LaPlaca keeps his prices as low as he can

LaPlaca keeps his prices as low as he can

One customer favorite has a rich Southern history. “Ugly Jugs” were created in the 19th century with human-looking eyeballs and teeth to scare children away from the moonshine typically stored in them. Pottery with faces dates back to Egyptian times, LaPlaca says.

LaPlaca has tried to create things made to order, but quickly felt constrained by that. “I’m always changing what I do; I get bored,” he says. Besides, creating copies is not the point. “All my stuff is unique.”

“I’m a handmade in America potter. I can’t compete with imports, it cheapens everything else in the store.” He tries to keep his prices affordable. A mug is $20 and a majority of the store’s items cost less than $50, he adds, and many less than $10.

LaPlaca says he’s committed to his beach location, although others questioned his decision to locate in a tourist town even before the storm and the last two months of erratic weather have been rough on his business.

He loves being there anyway.

“We all know each other here, and a few of us who were early got the ball rolling,” he says of his fellow business owners. “We’re working so hard and we took our lumps. It’s a critical summer for us. We have a real community.”

He’s confident that this time, Asbury Park will make it back. “There’s way too much momentum this time.”




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Livoti’s Old World Market Serves Up Pasta, Gravy and Great Service To Locals

Livoti's Market - Local Market Serving Up Old-World Charm

Livoti’s Market – Local Market Serves Up Old-World Charm

At Livoti’s Old World Market in Aberdeen, New Jersey, I bought some salted mozzarella for my aunt. She’s a first generation Italian-American, so my aunt has standards.

“We’re famous for our handmade hand-stretched mozzarella,” general manager Michael (aka Big Mike) Ali claims. Mike married the daughter of owner John Livoti.

Livoti’s is celebrating its three year anniversary and although it’s smaller than the two big box groceries that share the same half mile stretch of Route 34 in Aberdeen, it strives to match their prices on packaged items.

Livoti's Famous Mozzarella Station

Livoti’s Famous Mozzarella Station

“We’re a specialty market so not competing with them, but we don’t want people to have to go somewhere else to find affordable paper towels,” says Mike, who walks around bantering amiably  with employees and customers and tweaking shelves that already look quite neat. “We straighten everything every night before we close.”

A woman shopping with her husband tells Mike how much she enjoys the store’s Sunday afternoon Italian music concerts. He smiles and offers her a string bean to sample.

“I might not know everyone by name but I recognize most of their faces. We treat them personally and if there’s a problem we take care of it.” A third of its customers are from Matawan/Aberdeen, he notes, a fourth from Marlboro and Morganville, and the rest from towns such as Freehold and Woodbridge in surrounding areas.

Local Customers Love Livoti's and Big Mike

Local Customers Love Livoti’s and Big Mike

“Most are very local–which is great,” Mike says.

The store features a relentless focus on customer service; an abundance of mouth-watering items made fresh daily (95 percent of its takeout) under head chef Hani Qassis; and a full range of Italian staples and delicacies. You can watch Alphonzo at work in the mozzarella station creating salted, smoked and unsalted versions of the beloved cheese.

Yet Livoti’s reaches beyond traditional Italian cuisine to also offer new (gluten free and organic) and more Americanized fare. Although my grandparents may have viewed the chocolate peanut butter cake in the bakery with suspicion, they’d choose the traditional Italian rum cake and pignoli cookies nearby to serve on Christmas. There’s also a coffee bar, fresh seafood market, deli and enough custom-cut meats, poultry and store-made sausage to please any red-blooded carnivore—with a new organic and grass-fed meats case that Mike proudly points out.

Made Fresh Daily! (We know you want to try it!)

Made Fresh Daily! (We know you want to try it!)

Livoti’s donates generously to local sports teams and “as many causes as we can.” It was the only place open after Hurricane Sandy and sold hot takeout at every meal, prompting visits from as far away as Sayreville, Mike says.

“After Sandy was a very busy week,” he says. “We donated more than 2,000 pounds of cooked pasta and sauce to churches in Union Beach.”

The mayor of Sayreville even asked the owner to open a Livoti’s there. There is a new location coming that Mike will only reveal is in Monmouth County.


Livoti’s Fresh Handmade Mozzarella

What’s my aunt’s verdict on the handmade mozzarella, at $7.99 a pound? “Just a taste, I already ate,” then, a minute later, “I’ll try a little more,” then, “You can tell it’s handmade, it has ‘give.’ It’s not too salty. Light. Very good,” finally, “Like your grandmother’s.”

That says it all.


Communities with an active “buy local” campaign have experienced markedly stronger revenue growth compared to those located in areas without such a campaign.

According to a survey taken by the Institute For Local Self-Reliance, a national survey of independent businesses has found that those in communities with an active “buy local” campaign have experienced markedly stronger revenue growth compared to those located in areas without such a campaign. You can download the report here.

The article by Stacy Mitchell, senior researcher with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, highlights the report and provides a basis for what many proponents of “buy local” campaigns have been claiming for decades. Have a look and make your own conclusions.

Not a Local Business? Well, That Doesn’t Matter….

Costco and Whole Foods Market Support Local With Good Corporate Citizenship

I’ve spent a lot of time looking into how large superstore chains can hurt the economy. From predatory pricing to poorly compensated employees, I decided early on that there isn’t much to like about these conglomerates. They end up doing much more to hurt the local economies surrounding them than helping. Or so I thought….

9512021_sIt is true. There are some conglomerates that will never be good corporate citizens in their local economies. I shudder at the thought of giving them business, but why not? They are local, right? And they do employ my friends, family and neighbors, right?

Yes. But in order to improve their reputation, they need to be active in improving their citizenship status within their communities.We’ve seen examples of this in a couple of our local superstores: Costco and Whole Foods Market.

How do they do it?

Being Too Generous To Their Employees

Back in 2005, Wall Street continually faulted Costco CEO Jim Sinegal of “being too generous to employees.” This was, and continues to be worn as a badge of honor by Sinegal and Costco, and their customers take note, staying loyal to Costco “because they like that low prices do not come at the workers’ expense.” As Sinegal puts it, “this is not altruistic. This is good business.”

Supporting Local Vendors

11259873_sWhole Foods Market has a track record of supporting local companies and selling local products in their stores. While becoming a vendor for Whole Foods Market isn’t an easy task, the process is simplified and can become lucrative for both parties. They are also pretty open about their sourcing efforts in some cases, like this one in Hawaii.

Working To Strengthen Their Community

Even further, Whole Foods Market touts what they call their Commitment to Society. One of the tenets of this commitment is Community Giving which provides a framework that any conglomerate can follow to give back to their communities.

Another tenet which is most impressive is their overt financial support by way of their Local Producer Loan Program. These loans employ rates that rival SBA rates (currently between 5% and 9%). Have a look!

What I Like About Them

The very practice of buying local is intended to strengthen and bolster the local economy. With the support that Costco and Whole Foods Market provide to individuals and their communities, these companies fall within the buying local ecology. I support such companies when local stores can’t provide a job for my nephew or don’t have what I am looking for. If my nephew can’t find a job at a local small business, I’ll send him over to Costco. If I’m going to buy something, I’ll always buy local instead—but if my local grocer doesn’t have the cut of meat or particular vegetable that I am looking for, Whole Foods Market might. And if they do, they probably got it from a local vendor.

A Loaf of Bread, Container of Milk and a Stick of Butter…

If you’re close to my age, you may remember a sweet little Sesame Street animated short about a girl who was tasked to walk to her local grocery to buy these staples for her mother. I’d have loved to do that for my mom – I asked her if I could, but we lived in suburbia, and the local stores were a bit farther than up the block and around the corner. The closest one was about two miles away, and the closest supermarket was about the same distance.

Locally bought foods are better!

Buy them local instead!
Image credit: belchonock / 123RF Stock Photo

For a time, such little “mom-n-pop” stores dwindled into near extinction. It was common to see them close down as supermarkets and super stores popped up in nearly every town around us. Indeed, in some cases, pushing the mom-n-pops out of our communities was the very intent of the larger national conglomerates.

Some local grocers, farmers markets and specialized shops like fish markets, butchers and delis still thrive in their communities, though, and as more communities begin to see more value in purchasing from them rather than the superstores, more and more mom-n-pops like them are popping up around towns and in town centers.

Am I Saving Money At The Local Market?

There are many benefits to purchasing local food from a local market, but will you actually save money? On the price tag, you may find that the local price is a bit more than the superstore price, and sometimes there’s a nefarious reason for that. As we are learning to stretch our dollars further in this challenging economy, we’ve learned to look beyond the price tag and consider the other factors that will contribute to the cost of your purchase.

So why wouldn’t I buy a loaf of bread from the superstore at $2.29 when it’s $2.99 at the farmer’s market in town? Because it just makes more sense not to. Don’t take our word for it – others agree. GreenUpgrader has 10 great reasons why spending $.70 cents more saves you money in the short run.

Next time you need a loaf of bread, a container of milk or a stick of butter, Local Joan says “Take a walk to the local market, and if they’re around, bring the kids!”


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