Local Navy cadets traded their drill rifles for squeegees last week in an act of community pride.

Local Navy cadets traded their drill rifles for squeegees last week in an act of community pride.

A dozen members of the NJROTC program at Havelock High School washed, sprayed and swept Havelock’s aging Commercial Shopping Center last week in preparation for a new paint job.

“I think it’s awesome for them to be coming out here to volunteer,” said Cynthia George, owner of Akiko’s Alterations, one of six businesses that lease spaces in the 1950s-era shopping center at the corner of Jaycee Street and Cunningham Boulevard.

“This used to be the happening place. It used to be very busy here. In the ’80s, there was a lot of night life here. I remember when it had the IGA and when there was a movie theater here.”

The students went from one end of the complex to the other spraying and scrubbing windows, brushing away cob webs and generally cleaning up the façade.

“I think it’s wonderful,” said Venitah Coffelt, owner of About Face Salon.

Salon patron Betty Chaney, of Havelock, remembered when the shopping center was the only thing happening in Havelock.

“I came here back in 1952,” Chaney said. “It was a thriving shopping center back in the ’50s.”

Besides the grocery store and theater, the shopping center had a barber shop, the U.S. Post Office, a bank, a bakery, a pharmacy and a florist, she said.

“This was a jumping place. I worked in the bakery for a while,” Chaney said.

One reason the shopping center did so well was that there was a U.S. government housing complex occupied by base military personnel and their families next door, she said. That’s been gone for years now and the shopping center has steadily seen less business.

Coffelt said those driving on East Main Street simply don’t know the complex is there.

“It has the potential for a lot of life,” Coffelt said. “People don’t know we’re back here.”

Phyllis Mento, owner of Mento Real Estate Services, another renter in the shopping center, organized the cleanup.

“We wanted to get it painted and it had to be cleaned before it can be painted,” she said.

Mento gave the NJROTC a $200 donation, but the young military men and women said they would have come out to help anyway.

“We’re here to support the community and promote citizenship,” said Cadet Donald McLaughlin. “It makes me feel like we’re doing a really great thing.”

Cadet Commander Megan Grussing led the group.

“It is going to better the community, which is always a good thing,” Grussing said. “It’s also a good opportunity for the junior cadets to get some community service hours.”

George said her husband would paint the building after the cleanup and other preparations were complete.

“It’s going to be a couple of shades darker than the trim under the windows, then later dark gray and beige,” she said.

No matter what color, Coffelt likes the changes.

“We’re just so happy that somebody is taking an interest in this old place,” Coffelt said.