FRAMING UP A FUTURE ON MONMOUTH STREET

mcmillion1Red Bank Frameworks, at Monmouth and West streets, plans to open next month.

Is a revived western Monmouth Street finally starting to come into focus?

Steve McMillion thinks so, and wants in on it.

McMillion’s retail business, Red Bank Frameworks (website under construction), is scheduled for borough inspections early next month, and he hopes it will be cleared to open in two weeks.

When it does, it will mark the first noteworthy sign of new life on Monmouth since the relocation of Fins & Feathers pet store to the former Victory Market space almost two years ago.

By coincidence, Red Bank officials approved an expansion of the RiverCenter district west of Maple Avenue to Bridge Avenue two years ago in the hope of injecting new commercial life into a district that’s generally considered a stepchild to the downtown.

mcmillion3

Monmouth Street was to be the vital conduit between the two. With plans for a condo project at West Street and other developments in the pipeline, things looked promising.

But the condo project, despite approvals, has fizzled. And then the global economy went into a stall.

Now, while investors hold out for improvement in both the credit markets and the overall consumer economy, Monmouth Street is showing small signs of sending up new flowers among the weeds.

A used clothing store called Thrift & Gift is in the process of setting up shop. We don’t know the opening date, as no one at the Center for Vocational Rehabilitation, which is relocating the store from Eatontown, responded to repeated phone messages. But by the looks of things, the store has appeared nearly ready to open for weeks.

McMillion, 42, who will run the business with his wife, Hedy Kulka, tells us he’s got 15 years under his belt as a framer. A resident of South Amboy, he’s been working in Manhattan in recent years. But he got tired of the commute, and started looking around for a place to start his own shop.

“We found this space and fell in love with the building,” he says.

Before he worked in New York, McMillion was in London, where he framed artworks for the likes of the Tate and the British Museum and honed his skills in archival framing.

Before that, he helped run a cooperative art gallery in a Chicago neighborhood much like the one where he’s opening his business, he says: one in need of some TLC, but with great potential.

“That’s kind of what we like about it,” he says, noting that the store is smack between the Count Basie Theatre and the Two River Theater and hard by the train station and antiques district, generating the kind of arts-minded traffic that he hopes to tap into.

Being away from the core downtown also means cheaper rents. Under his three-year lease, McMillion says he’s paying one third what he might have laid out on Broad Street.

Even without having opened, Red Bank Frameworks appears to be generating a bit of a vibe. “People are stopping in to see what we’re up to,” he says. “We’re getting to know the old timers, and there are lots of artists walking by.”