While New Jersey’s landscape is dotted with traditional hotels and conference centers that can serve companies’ meeting place needs, the Garden State also has off-the-beaten-path venues that corporations can use for team building, presentations and other purposes. Sometimes located outside of metropolitan areas, New Jersey’s non-traditional meeting places include, but are not limited to, wineries, distilleries, resorts and baseball parks.
And, although the coronavirus pandemic dealt a heavy blow to all meeting-place venues when it first struck New Jersey in 2020, several industry players say business has been returning, especially with corporate clients that have been working remotely and whose employees now yearn for face-to-face interactions.
At Crystal Springs Resort, a different off-the-beaten-path venue in Sussex County, Regional Sales Director Linda Alloco notes that while September 2021 through November 2021 was “very healthy” for meetings, the COVID-19 omicron variant made for a slow December. However, by mid-February, meeting interest had “spiked tremendously,” and Crystal Springs, at press-time, is now booking events on a short-term basis.
Located on two properties in northern New Jersey, Crystal Springs offers everything ranging from hotel rooms and conference space, to dining options and activities.
“The Zoom meetings worked out well when it was a necessity [during the pandemic], but the sidebar conversations obviously cannot occur on a big screen,” Alloco explains. “The fact is that people can be face-to-face in a pristine atmosphere [here at Crystal Springs Resort] surrounded by mountains on both properties.”
Another possible ray of hope: Crystal Springs Resort’s Alloco explains that she has a client that annually visits her facility with some 200 people, and this year, all but two of the attendees arrived.
In addition to noting people’s desire to meet face-to-face, Alloco says, “I do think the component that sets [Crystal Springs Resort] apart is having acres of land, and having team building in a unique atmosphere. … [It] feels healthier, if I can use that word. I know that it may sound silly … but I think [clients] look at us as if their not just in a box … they’re going to a healthy environment to gather together.”
Meanwhile, at Garden State Distillery in Toms River, CEO/owner Rick Norman likewise saw business slow in November and increase in February. Striving to use only New Jersey grains, the distillery has an approximate 5,000- to 6,000-square-foot production facility, offers tastings, is involved with distribution, has live music on the weekends, gives tours, and donates to local charities, among other endeavors.
Norman summarizes: “That’s what we do: We make booze and we sell it.”
He explains that the distillery has held gatherings with up to 100 people, and that attendees can connect a laptop to a television for presentations. Norman adds that he is “trying to set up” a product line for which companies would visit for team-building exercises, and “everyone sits around and tastes berries, and then we decide what their whiskey is going to be made from.” Garden State Distillery would then bottle the whiskey once it has completed aging.\
Hammonton-based Tomasello Winery is also in the business of selling alcohol, and, established in 1933, it is New Jersey’s oldest winery, replete with separate banquet facilities. Overall, Tomasello has 10 tasting room locations throughout New Jersey.
“It’s healthy for people to be with other people,” says Jack Tomasello, vice president of Tomasello Winery, whose grandparents started the winery 90 years ago. “At some point, you don’t just want to see your [business] colleagues on a screen; you want to meet them, and you want to go out and have a drink with them. And I think that a winery is a cool thing to do because it will bring people together … people love to get together and drink wine.”
As for its off-the-beaten-path status, Tomasello says, “The winery is out in the middle of nowhere. … You’re not going into Newark or Atlantic City; you’re pretty much going to be in a farm town.”
Overall, the state has more than 50 wineries, according to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture. The coronavirus pandemic has yielded ups and downs for Tomasello Winery and other establishments, but even early on, Tomasello says, “[Gov. Murphy’s rules] allowed us to do some things outdoors. So, we put a little tent up outside of the winery for wine tasting. It worked out well, considering all that we have been through.”
Tomasello also notes companies’ use of Zoom, a ubiquitous money-saving tool in the pandemic that has facilitated a society-wide reduction in corporate meetings, including at his winery. That said, Zoom Video Communications itself saw slower year-over-year revenue growth for its fourth quarter and fiscal year ended January 31, 2022, at 21%, when compared to 367% of year-over-year revenue growth in the third fiscal quarter ended October 31, 2020. This may be good tidings for in-person venues.
And just as nature can stir the soul, so too can throwing axes: Established in 2016, Stumpy’s Hatchet House – with six locations in New Jersey (and more out of state) – where participants can throw axes at targets – are places where “friends, family, coworkers, etc., can get together to create memories by doing something slightly out of their comfort zone in a beautiful rustic environment,” according to a Stumpy’s representative. For corporate events, each of Stumpy’s locations is equipped with space for conference-style events, in addition to large smart televisions that facilitate presentations.
Underscoring the fact that some businesses’ employees have remained virtual/remote during the entire pandemic is Patrick McVerry, president and general manager of the Somerset Patriots, the New York Yankees Double-A affiliate, at Bridgewater-based TD Bank Ballpark. McVerry says, “We’ve seen a big uptick this year of larger gatherings of businesses that just want to get their employees together, have a great time in the ballpark, and regain the pride they have in their organizations.” Within the context of the coronavirus pandemic, he also says that his outdoor venue adds a sense of safety for visitors.
While McVerry explains that he doesn’t think his facility “is the first thing that comes to mind when you’re thinking about holding a meeting or having a function for your company,” the venue has long been hosting such events.
From meetings to team building, TD Bank Ballpark has: a 300–500-person capacity picnic area; 18 luxury suite boxes for watching a game and getting work done; a Diamond Club, which holds about 65 people and features a smart television for presentations; and a party deck that accommodates about 100-150 people.
McVerry adds, “We’ve had presidents, [corporate] managers and Employees of the Month throw out the first pitches and do game announcements. Then they’ll have a great all-you-can-eat picnic party.”
Whether at a baseball park, winery, distillery or other facility, New Jersey has an array of off-the-beaten path corporate meeting places that offer unique experiences for businesses that visit them. With the coronavirus easing at press-time, these meeting places may see even further increased bookings as corporations’ colleagues desire to both bond with each other and get their work accomplished.
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