The Borough of Metuchen has been quickly transforming into one of the state’s newest foodie destinations. Thanks to the efforts of Borough officials and the Metuchen Downtown Alliance (MDA), the borough’s volunteer-based nonprofit downtown management corporation, the growth hasn’t slowed during the pandemic.
In fact, the bustling downtown has seen new businesses open since the spring, including the first Biggby Coffee location in the state. Other new businesses opening include Menya Ramen House, Fresh Coast and Papillon & Company.
“Almost any business can thrive in downtown Metuchen,” said MDA Executive Director Isaac Kremer. “Metuchen is a walking town that features a wide-range of businesses from our delicious and eclectic dining options to retail and everything in between.”
Metuchen was one of the first downtowns in New Jersey to implement an outdoor dining plan in response to the pandemic, according to Kremer. Working with Borough officials and departments, the MDA, volunteers, and local restaurant owners were able to create a comprehensive outdoor dining and retail plan before options were even permitted by state officials.
Once outdoor dining was allowed on June 15, Metuchen was fully prepared to welcome back diners to the downtown area, with the strong support of downtown merchants.
“When we realized that indoor dining wasn’t going to be possible for a while, the first thing that MDA, the Borough, and Metuchen Area Chamber of Commerce did was look at every square foot of public and private space in the downtown area to see how we could activate it for our local restaurants and businesses” Kremer said, adding that some businesses have seen a 30% increase in sales since the plan’s implementation.
The plan includes the closure of New Street by the Borough to traffic to provide open space for outdoor dining Friday to Sunday nights. The Metuchen Arts Council has been presenting live, acoustic music for diners on New St.
The MDA also implemented the Metuchen Downtown Reopening Grant program to assist businesses with reopening and the costs involved in doing so in a safe, timely and effective manner.
A total of $50,000 in grants were given out to 40 businesses in the last 2 months. “Through the MDA Reopening Grant, Title Boxing Club was able to purchase audio equipment in order to hold outdoor fitness classes… Their support and frequent communications will never be forgotten by our team,” said Jim Walsh, Owner of Title Boxing.
While indoor dining is now permitted up to 25% capacity, restaurants are still using the popular alley, patio and sidewalk dining options that have been provided to them.
The MDA has received help to further expand and repurpose public spaces, outdoor dining and retail in the borough through the 2020 AARP Community Challenge grant. Through the grant, the AARP is providing $19,000 and MDA is providing an additional $17,435 in cash and $21,250 of in-kind support from staff and volunteers for a total project cost of around $57,685.
The MDA will use the grant funds to continue assisting retailers with expanding outdoor areas with display spaces, mobile carts, additional alley transformations, and a “streatery,” according to Kremer. The MDA is also looking at various options to be able to continue outdoor dining through the winter months.
“We are trying to provide our businesses with whatever they need to get through the pandemic and return to growth,” he said.
Kremer has been the executive director since the MDA was first formed in 2016. The organization has been a close partner with the MCRCC. “I appreciate what a strong supporter the MCRCC has been to local businesses, especially the Small Business Development Center at Rutgers who we closely partner with too,” he noted.
To learn more about the MDA and its outdoor dining scene, visit www.downtownmetuchen.org or follow all the happenings on Facebook: @Metuchen Downtown Alliance.