Used bookstore hopes to make its mark downtown

BY SUE HAMMER
Staff Writer

BY SUE HAMMER
Staff Writer


JEFF GRANIT staff Abraham Wachstein recently opened Metuchen Books.JEFF GRANIT staff Abraham Wachstein recently opened Metuchen Books.

METUCHEN — Folks strolling downtown will find a new addition to the business district at 465 Main St.

Crowds taking short walks or browsing around downtown motivated Abraham Wachstein of Manalapan to open Metuchen Books. According to Wachstein, he was looking for a town where people walk.

The used bookstore opened its doors in August and so far the response has been positive, he said.

"I decided to follow my heart and open a bookstore," said Wachstein. "I’m trying to make a business out of a love."

His love of books began as a child in Brooklyn. where he was a "big customer" of the borough’s libraries. His early favorites were Mark Twain’s "Tom Sawyer" and "Huckleberry Finn," as well as science fiction.

Wachstein, the father of three college students, said he began seriously collecting books about 30 years ago. He started with leather-bound books, and when that became too expensive, he turned to other genres. He said books on art and architecture are his real love.

According to Wachstein, many of the books for sale in his shop come from his personal collection. His home is filled with books.

To keep things fresh, there is constant turnover in the store, and Wachstein purchases more books each day to keep the shelves filled. He buys books from people directly in the shop or at people’s homes before and after business hours.

In one day last week, he brought in four boxes of books and had already sold the contents of two of them.

Wachstein does reject some books. He will not buy textbooks unless they are over 150 years old or library books unless he can see it was actually withdrawn from the library.

"I won’t buy mildew[ed] books," he added.

Potential customers are lured to the assortment of books lying on the table outside the store. Wachstein, sitting in the front of his store, is quick to tap on the glass window, make contact with them and wave them in.

"Once I get a person in the store, they come back," he said.

Metuchen Books is divided into three rooms with books arranged according to genre on the light-colored, kiln-dried wooden shelves – which the owner crafted himself.

He said lumberyards do not stock the kind of wood he wanted to use and that it took him three deliveries to get the amount he needed.

Wachstein refers to his selection of books as eclectic — just like the interests of people who go to bookstores. His books run the gamut from art and architecture to children’s books and leather- bound sets. He also has numerous books on New Jersey and New York and boasts a large collection of classics.

Wachstein says that the large chain bookstores like Barnes & Noble and Borders are not his competition. They often turn to the used bookstores when they have a request for an out-of-print book from a customer.

Wachstein’s books are priced from 50 cents to $650 for John Wyndham’s 1951 first edition of "Day of the Triffids."

In addition to books, Wachstein has autographed Playbills from the 1920s and automobile sales brochures from the 1940s and 1950s.

"I hope to cater to people who like good books," Wachstein said.

Metuchen Books is open seven days a week. The hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. For further information call (732) 767-1480.


Package theft a concern

By JENNIFER ORTIZ and KENNY WALTER
Staff Writers

 STAFF PHOTGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR STAFF PHOTGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR The theft of packages delivered to doorsteps is becoming a bigger problem as more and more people shop online for their Christmas gifts.

Woodbridge Police Capt. Roy Hoppock said package theft has become a growing issue, and there are very few ways to address it.

“It’s a problem. It’s a crime of opportunity is what it comes down to,” he said. “So many more people are [shopping online] and more and more packages are being left on people’s front steps, and people drive by and they see them and they grab them.”

Hoppock said Woodbridge police recently made an arrest involving package theft and charged a woman with three counts of theft by unlawful taking after three packages were taken from an apartment complex on Dec. 7 in the Fords section of Woodbridge.

“We did a follow-up and on Dec. 13 we made an arrest of a female that was staying at [a nearby hotel],” he said. “Most of the time it is difficult to make an arrest unless there is video.”

According to Hoppock, some shoppers utilize their neighbors in an effort to thwart any potential theft.

“If they have the luxury of having some neighbors that don’t work or if the person knows there is going to be a delivery in a day or two, let your neighbor know,” Hoppock said. “That seems to be the best, but not everybody has that luxury.”

Howell Police Detective Sgt. Christian Antunez said thefts of this nature occur sporadically throughout the year, but increase in frequency significantly during the holiday season. He said that as of Dec. 14, police had received at least five reports of thefts of packages since Nov. 1.

“The number is likely higher because some people do not report the thefts to police. We strongly encourage residents to report any thefts to the police department,” Antunez said.

In a public awareness announcement, Howell Police Chief Andrew Kudrick said most thefts of packages occur during the afternoon and/or early evening hours.

Victims are asked to report thefts online at www.howellpolice.org or call the police. In the event the person who stole the item is caught, the merchandise could be returned, Kudrick said.

“Once the item is confirmed to have been delivered and most likely stolen, call the police immediately and file a report with as much information about the theft as possible, including the number of boxes, the items stolen, the value of items stolen, carrier, the time and date of delivery,” Antunez said.

He said the Ramtown area of Howell south of Lakewood-Allenwood Road appeared to be a target for this type of illegal activity.

“We are adding extra patrols in the area to stop and identify suspicious vehicles and persons and to increase visibility. This also includes plainclothes personnel,” Antunez said, adding that the reported thefts remain under investigation.

He said police are working diligently to investigate the crimes that have occurred and to prevent future crimes.

“We encourage residents to be vigilant and to contact the police immediately if they see suspicious vehicles or people in their neighborhood. Suspicious vehicles can include vehicles driving aimlessly, very slowly, up and down the street, apparently lost, such as driving down cul-de-sacs or dead end streets, and other similar actions.

“Suspicious people can exhibit similar behavior and also include clothing meant to conceal their identity, approaching houses and then asking about lost dogs or other fictitious stories when confronted by homeowners and other similar behavior,” Antunez said. “Unfortunately, we cannot be everywhere at once, so we ask that residents bring their delivered packages inside as soon as possible to limit their exposure to thieves. We also ask that neighbors be aware of their surroundings as much as possible to protect the community and to look out for one another.” Kudrick suggested residents might want to view a www.travelers.com “How to Protect Yourself from Package Theft and ID Fraud” article. Tips include having packages delivered at work or choosing a specific delivery time if the retailer provides such an option. Delivery alerts and a trusted neighbor to take one’s package inside for safekeeping are also advised.

“There are undesirables always looking to take advantage of you,” Kudrick said, adding that residents should be aware of their surroundings.

Manalapan Lt. Edward Niesz said the Manalapan Police Department has tips for consumers shopping online.

“We try to get people to either use one of the shipping locations to pick up there, to have the tracking devices so they know exactly when their package is going to be arriving or set up a delivery with a friend, or what a lot of people do now is have packages delivered to their place of employment,” Niesz said.

Niesz said while the problem seems to be growing nationwide, it hasn’t been that big of an issue in Manalapan.

“There is a heightened awareness about it and in our township it hasn’t been as much of a problem,” he said. “In Manalapan we haven’t seen a great increase in it as of late, it’s been sporadic here and there.”

Niesz said while it is difficult to solve crimes involving stolen packages, a lot of homeowners are now using surveillance cameras and uploading the footage to social media to help identify the perpetrators.

Michael, the supervisor of customer service for the U.S. Postal Service in Red Bank, who wouldn’t disclose his last name, said the growing theft problem began about six years ago as online shopping increased.

He said mail carriers are taught different ways to conceal packages so they are not just left in plain site.

“If they have a screen door and the package fits, a lot of times the carriers will put it in between the doors,” Michael said. “Sometimes if they have a side door, they will do something like that, but other than that there is nothing to prevent it.”

Residents are being put on notice that packages delivered to and left outside homes are a target for thieves, particularly around the holidays.

“It is getting worse and worse,” Michael said. “After Thanksgiving is when it becomes larger.

“That’s when it becomes big but it is an all year round problem.”

In a statement from United Parcel Service (UPS), which delivers an estimated 630 million packages between Thanksgiving and New Years Eve, the company has not seen an increase in package theft in recent years.

“UPS delivers about 18 million packages every day, and our data indicate that the rate of incidents involving UPS has been relatively flat over the last few years,” the statement reads. “We have procedures in place to ensure all of our packages are properly delivered.

“We alert our drivers and seasonal driver helpers to specific incidents where law enforcement has contacted us. If a customer contacts UPS to report a stolen package, UPS would work with the original shipper through our claims process to make the consumer whole.”

Delivery tips

 If you are not going to be home, have your packages delivered to work, a neighbor’s or relative’s house

 Have your package delivered to a local store for pick-up

 Track your package so you can be notified when a package arrives

 Pick up the package from the delivery company’s closest facility

 Ask the shipper to require a signature confirmation for delivery

Board approves church expansion despite protests

BY SANDI CARPELLO
Staff Writer

BY SANDI CARPELLO
Staff Writer

METUCHEN — A local church that wants to expand its facilities got the blessing of borough officials last week.

Despite relentless opposition from Rose Street residents over the course of the hearings on the application, the Metuchen’s Zoning Board unanimously granted the Metuchen Assembly of God Inc., 130 Whitman Ave., variances to expand their 20-year-old combined church, day care and elementary school into a more contemporary and spacious facility on Thursday.

The applicant, who will return to the Zoning Board next month for site plan approval on the application, proposes to remove the existing freestanding day care facility, relocate the modular classroom building to the rear of the 2.8-acre property, and construct a 165-by-82-foot, two-story addition to the north side of the school building. The expanded facility will include a gymnasium and four new classrooms, an expanded 112-space parking lot, and an outdoor recreation area.

The Rev. Donald McFarren and his wife, Cynthia, the principals in Metuchen Assembly of God Inc., testified that the expansion was necessary to meet the school and day care’s high student demand.

If site plan approval is granted, the facility could accommodate a roughly 25 percent increase in student and day care enrollment.

Thursday marked McFarren’s the 11th appearance before the Zoning Board this year. Due to the size of the expan­sion, the board rejected his pre­vious application several months ago. The current application is a scaled down ver­sion of the original plan.

"All they want to do is teach, all they want to do is help children," the appli­cant’s attorney, George Otlowski Jr., of Stark & Stark, Princeton, told the board. "I don’t think we should have to compro­mise anymore."

But a slew of roughly 25 residents, who have seen the church expand its fa­cility several times in the past two decades, said enough is enough.

"In all these years, I have never
op­posed the church. But I see no reason for the expansion other than the fact that the applicant has a simple desire to expand," said Pat O’Neil of Rose Street.

"Not only are parents going to drop their kids off, driving over 25 mph down Rose Street, I’m worried about the first aid squad getting through the street. … Also, there are kids who live in the neighborhood who bike and walk to the pool. I’m concerned about the safety in the neighborhood," another Rose Street resident, Sarah Arnhardt, said.

Heightened noise, inadequate buffers, carbon monoxide, flooding, suburban sprawl and homeowners’ rights were also on the residents’ roster of concerns.

In rebuttal to the concerns, licensed planner Peter Steck, Maplewood, told the board that the proposed area, which is bordered by Route 287, is already very noisy.

"Being that this is a church, this
ap­plication automatically meets positive cri­teria," Steck said. "Nobody will have a view of the whole composition. … If this application is dismissed, you could get a row of single-family homes instead."

Greg McFarren, the applicants’ son and the church’s assistant pastor, told the residents to get used to development.

"Metuchen is a fastly growing commu­nity," he said. "Development and progress is happening, and any progress comes with a price at any time," he said. "This application is not extraordinary, and I caution you to be understanding."

As the board reached its verdict, Cynthia McFarren let out a sigh of relief.

"That’s one step in the right direction," she said. "We are very thankful."

However, area residents, hoping to appeal the board’s decision, said McFar­ren’s relief might only be
temporary.


Somerset Valley Bank robbed

EDISON— Authorities are investigating a robbery at Somerset Valley Bank.

The bank on Oak Tree Road was robbed at 9:15 a.m. Oct. 9, said Stephen Kodak, special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Newark.

According to Kodak, a man described as black, in his early 20s, about 5 feet 10 inches tall, and wearing black clothing, entered the bank, jumped over the counter and took an undisclosed amount of money from the cash drawers.

The man then ran from the bank in an unknown direction, Kodak said.

"No one was injured; no weapon was shown," Kodak said.

Only one customer was in the bank at the time of the robbery, he said.

The FBI is working jointly with the Edison Police Department to investigate the case, he said.

— Maura Dowgin


Robbery attempt ends in stabbing

BY MAURA DOWGIN
Staff Writer

BY MAURA DOWGIN
Staff Writer

EDISON — A 28-year-old township man was injured when an attempted robbery took a turn for the worse.

The man was assaulted on Oct. 6 at 11:30 p.m. by three men at the rear of the Metroplex Complex near Blueberry Court, according to police

The victim, who lives in the apartment complex on Blueberry Court, reported being attacked by a white man and two black men, said officer Robert Dudash, Edison police spokesman.

The men punched him and stabbed him in the lower back "with some kind of edged weapon," Dudash said.

Police are not sure what type of weapon was used during the attack, Dudash said.

The men then tried to reach into the victim’s pockets for a wallet, but left before they could take it, fleeing in the direction of Blueberry Court, he said.

There were no witnesses to the incident.

The victim was conscious when the Edison First Aid Squad brought him to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, New Brunswick, for injuries that were not life threatening, Dudash said.


Retired Edison police officer indicted on theft charges

EDISON — A grand jury in Middlesex County has indicted a retired Edison police captain on charges of illegally using sick leave to collect about $38,000 from the township while working at another job.

Natale A. Fresco, 60, of Edison was charged with two counts of second-degree official misconduct, one count of third-degree theft and one count of third-degree theft by deception, according to a statement prepared by Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew C. Carey.

The indictment was handed up in New Brunswick following a presentation to the grand jury by Middlesex County Assistant Prosecutor Christine D’Elia on Dec. 18.

The charges were filed after an investigation determined that Fresco was employed as security director at the Menlo Park Mall between July 15 and Sept. 30 and collected sick pay from the township during that time.

The investigation by Detective Nicholas Chiorello of the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office determined that Fresco, known as “Andy,” collected about $38,000 before retiring on Oct. 1, Carey said.

Fresco, who worked as a police officer for 36 years, earned $189,000 annually from the township and was being paid $65,000 per year as the mall security director, according to Carey.

Anyone with information is asked to call Chiorello at 732-745-3300.

Dushahra festival aims to promote Indian culture

Oct. 18 event to feature
music, dancing, food,
crafts and fireworks

BY LINDA DeNICOLA
Staff Writer

Oct. 18 event to feature
music, dancing, food,
crafts and fireworks
BY LINDA DeNICOLA
Staff Writer


Gov. James McGreevey offers his best wishes for the success of the Dushahra Festival 2003 to members of the organizing committee.Gov. James McGreevey offers his best wishes for the success of the Dushahra Festival 2003 to members of the organizing committee.

Cultural programs, music and dancing, actors in colorful costumes, Indian food and fireworks are all part of one of India’s most important festivals. That festival, the fifth Dushahra Festival 2003, is coming to Freehold Township on Saturday, Oct. 18 from noon to 8 p.m. The event, a celebration of the victory of good over evil, will be held at East Freehold Park on Kozloski Road.

Dushahra is one of the significant Hindu festivals, celebrated with much exultation throughout India, said Mangal Gupta, founding chairman of the event. "This occasion marks the triumph of Lord Ram, the incarnation of God on earth, over the demon king Ravan, or good over evil."

According to Gupta, he started the event after hearing from many Hindus living in America that they had never been to a Dushahra festival and their children had never even heard of it. The goal is to pass on Indian cultural heritage to future generations and to introduce other cultures to wonderful Indian traditions, he added.

Gupta said that one woman told him that she had been in the United States for 20 years, and her children, who were 7 and 10, had never seen the "Ramayana," the epic story of Ram and Ravan enacted by a cast of 50 actors in colorful costumes in a performance that usually lasts two hours.

The most important part of the festival is the burning in effigy of Ravan. Gupta said that one of the reasons why this may be the largest Dushahra festival in the country is because of the difficulty in constructing the effigy, which is 25 feet tall and made of bamboo covered with paper and cloth. The effigy is imported from India.

"This is the only festival being done on such a large scale, replete with dazzling fireworks. I’m getting calls from Chicago and California that they want to do it there."

Although it is not celebrated that widely in the United States, it is a festival that is celebrated all over India, north to south, east to west, Gupta said. "The schools are closed for 10 days," he noted.

He explained that "the man who does the fireworks lights the effigy. There are fire marshals present just in case, but we’ve never had a problem. In India they make it so nice. When they light it, the head goes separate from the body. I don’t know how they set it up to make that happen.

"For the children, it is fantastic. The theme is that evil is always defeated in the end. It gives the message that you should always try to be good. That is the message that children learn. Ravan dies in the end."

Gupta called it a guiding-light kind of story.

This is the third year that the festival is being held at East Freehold Park in Monmouth County. For the first two years, it was held in East Brunswick.

When Gupta first organized the festival, Middlesex County had the largest Indian population in the state with one of the highest concentrations in the Iselin section of Woodbridge. In fact, Iselin is sometimes referred to as Little India, Gupta said.

But the move to Freehold Township hasn’t hurt attendance. People come from all over, Gupta said, adding, last year, an estimated 10,000 people attended the event, including a number of state and local dignitaries.

This year, the special guest will be Lord Swraj Paul of the United Kingdom. According to Gupta, he is a lord of the House of Commons and a business ambassador of the British government. He travels worldwide with delegations to various counties, Gupta said.

"He immigrated to England a long time [ago]. He is going to inaugurate the festival with the lighting of the deepak, the inaugural lamp."

In addition to the Ram Leela performance of the battle between good and evil and dazzling fireworks at sundown, there will be a food and crafts fair, as well as rides and games, all part of a celebration of the best of Indian heritage and tradition.

Dushahra Festival

October 18

noon Festival opens

1:00 p.m. Welcome and cultural program

(organized by Uma Swaminathan and Sanjay Khanna)

5:00 p.m. Ram Leela Part I

(directed by Padma Khanna and Jagdish Sidana of Indianica)

6:00 p.m. Inauguration, lighting of the lamps, introduction

of committee members and honoring dignitaries

6:30 p.m. Ram Leela Part II

(directed by Padma Khanna and Jagdish Sidana of Indianica)

7:30 p.m. Walk to Ravan effigy & fireworks site

7:45 p.m. Burning of Ravan effigy

8:00 p.m. Fireworks display


Officials hope to redevelop Ford site

Edison plant is
scheduled for shutdown in February

BY MAURA DOWGIN
Staff Writer

Edison plant is
scheduled for shutdown in February
BY MAURA DOWGIN
Staff Writer


JEFF GRANIT staff The Ford Motor Co. announced it will be closing the Edison assembly plant on Route 1 on Feb. 27.JEFF GRANIT staff The Ford Motor Co. announced it will be closing the Edison assembly plant on Route 1 on Feb. 27.

EDISON— Up to 900 workers could lose their jobs or be forced to transfer out of state when the Ford Motor Co. plant shuts its doors next year.

"Employees have been notified that Feb. 27 is the last work day," said Kathleen Hamilton, a Ford company spokeswoman.

There are about 800 hourly and 100 salaried workers currently employed at the Edison site, located on 102 acres at 939 Route 1 south, Hamilton said.

"While [the closing of the plant] is unwelcome news, the good news is that Ford has worked with the UAW (Unified Auto Workers) to address employee concerns and provide employee assistance programs, benefits and early retirement options," Mayor George Spadoro said in a statement issued Oct. 2.

Ford is looking to sell the 102 acres where the plant currently sits, Hamilton said.

"Marketing and environmental studies are under way and we are working with the township of Edison to find a use that fits in with the township’s master plan and its concerns about such things as traffic congestion and land use," she said.

The site offers a "unique redevelopment opportunity" for the township, Spadoro said.

"My office has been made aware by Ford that they have seen an active interest in the marketing of this property for redevelopment," Spadoro said.

"Indeed, I believe, based on our conversations with Ford, our own research and the plant’s location, this site, when it is redeveloped, will generate even greater tax revenue for Edison than we currently collect from Ford," he said.

Spadoro said he hopes for the redevelopment plan to be started in 2004.

"We are making every effort to find jobs for all employees who choose to transfer. Some will retire and some will want to stay in the area for family or other reasons, and we hope that employers in the area will consider these highly motivated and trained people," Hamilton said.

The company hopes most of the employees choose to transfer to other plants, she said.

Employees who want to be transferred to other Ford plants will be put on a preferred hiring list. As jobs become available around the country, the former employees of the plant will have preferential treatment, said Jim Shaw, president of the United Auto Workers Local 980 chapter. "As positions become available, they will be able to go to different locations," Shaw said.

Ford also will hold a job fair later this year to introduce the workers to the community, Hamilton said.

One shift was eliminated in 2002, Hamilton said. The loss of the shift eliminated about 700 jobs from the Edison plant.

"Even though we lost a shift, we didn’t have anyone at laid off," Shaw said. Everyone was either transferred or retired.

There are many reasons why Ford has decided to shut down the plant, Hamilton said.

"Worldwide overcapacity in the auto industry and a particular decline in the small truck market" are just two reasons for the closing, she said.

"This closing is part of Ford Motor Co.’s revitalization, in which we pledged to eliminate 1 million units of capacity and improve our financial picture," Hamilton said.

The plant has been operating since 1948. Last year it produced 172,390 cars.

Since 1991, the plant has produced Ford Ranger pickup trucks. In the past, the plant has made Lincoln/Mercury, Falcons, Comets, Mustangs, Pintos, Bobcats, and Escorts.

"The Ford Ranger will continue to be assembled at Ford’s Twin Cities assembly plant in St. Paul, Minn.," Hamilton said.

According to Shaw, the mood at the plant is down.

"It’s a traumatic thing," he said. "People are down about it, but they continue to make good Ford products."