Downtowns Help Businesses Expand Outdoors

Downtowns Help Businesses Expand Outdoors

Rebecca Kutner
Assistant Planner, Mercer Planning Associates

October 21, 2020

The constraints of limited indoor capacity for restaurants and retailers has meant that municipalities and downtown organizations had to get creative expanding into the public realm. Many of our members have worked with their municipal governments to ease or remove barriers to outdoor dining and outdoor commerce. This has come in the form of ordinances, resolutions, and emergency orders that have simplified the process to obtain a special use permit or outdoor dining/commerce permit and, in many cases, has also waived the corresponding fee. It has led to more open streets and weekend street closures, with streets turned into pedestrian malls, restricting traffic to locals, using parking spaces for parklets, and using other public spaces, such as parks and parking lots, for a variety of events and uses.

The financial strain the pandemic has caused many of the businesses that make up downtowns cannot be overstated. This crisis has highlighted the work that BIDS, SIDS, and other downtown organizations do for the businesses they serve. Below are some of what our members have done and continue to do to expand business outside to keep people coming to their downtowns.

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Downtown New Jersey

Downtown New Jersey has held several forums for downtown managers and public officials to exchange ideas about reopening, events, and expanding outdoors.

For for recaps, videos, & PPTs of the full series of Downtown Management Forums, visit downtownnj.com/covid-forums.

Now the cold weather season is upon us, we also invite downtowns to join our Winning Winter Challenge. Share your successful #WinningWinterNJ placemaking initiatives on social media and/or by email, and we may just highlight them at the upcoming Downtown Conference.

Bloomfield Center

In its efforts to support downtown businesses, the Bloomfield Center Alliance (BCA) made some adjustments to a few of its annual events and also came up with new activities that were both fun and safe for people to attend.  Changes to its annual Cruise Nights Car Show and Dinner Under the Stars series, included substituting customary trophies for car show winners with gift cards from local businesses as a way of directly supporting them.  To minimize the handling of marketing materials during the Dinner Under the Stars series, the distribution of event flyers and other promotional handouts was eliminated.  They were instead placed in display stands along with messaging encouraging attendees to “Snap a Photo” and share it with friends.  For both events, the BCA coordinated the required street closures, ensured the proper distancing of tables, chairs, and entertainers, and provided plenty of signage informing the public of safety protocols. 

New events included outdoor Karaoke nights, where microphones were sanitized between singers and a “Movie Under the Stars,” requiring those interested in attending pre-registering to ensure appropriate numbers and social distancing.  Finally, in response to the township’s decision earlier in the year to allow for outdoor dining through the end of November and setting up pedlets in front of several restaurants, the BCA purchased and provided patio heaters for many of them with the goal of helping extend the time in which the public can dine outside and support these businesses.

BCA also worked with EMI Strategy to create the first-ever Virtual Restaurant Week for Bloomfield Center. The event included significant outreach to the restaurants in the district, development of a user-friendly website showcasing participating
restaurant’s Restaurant Week offers, creation of short branded videos of interviews with restaurant owners, and six free virtual music performances. Nearly 2,000 people visited the website week’s special website and 6,700+ people watched the 7 videos profiling local businesses.

Bradley Beach

Photo Credit: BBBCA

The Borough of Bradley Beach, Mayor Engelstad, and the Council acted on the need for outdoor dining and passed a Resolution in the spring that allowed restaurants to use available sidewalk and parking lot space for outdoor dining. The outdoor dining fee was waived this year and the Borough reached out to all the restaurants so they could take advantage of the changes. Seven Main Street restaurants opened or expanded outdoor dining, and many continued their takeout service.

Photo Credit: BBBCA

The Borough provided vinyl Welcome Back signs for small businesses when indoor shopping resumed in the late spring. There was also extensive beachfront promotion during the summer as a way to encourage people to eat at restaurants. In partnership with the Borough, the newly formed  Bradley Beach Business Community Alliance, waived business membership fees starting in April, as they continued to recruit resident members and support small businesses. A Shop Local promotion has been underway since June and the Borough also extended the beach season to September 30th.

Commercial District Services

Commercial District Services (CDS) is a place management firm based in New Jersey specializing in placemaking, beautification, sanitation, public space planning and development. CDS’s clients represent Special Improvement Districts (SIDs) that manage some of New Jersey’s most prominent commercial districts.

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, CDS worked to implement creative methods to support local businesses by increasing public and outdoor seating and dining areas and maintaining clean and safe public spaces for visitors. Through placemaking, CDS’s clients have been able to achieve these goals, bolstering their local economies and strengthening their districts’ social fabric. 

The ‘Streatery’ at Journal Square

Photo Credit: Commercial Services District

Once a vehicular turning lane is now a place of relaxation and respite in the heart of one of Jersey City’s bustling transportation hubs – Journal Square. At the height of COVID, businesses in the food and restaurant sector were hit especially hard by mandatory restrictions on indoor dining. While not all businesses had the luxury of extraneous outdoor, sidewalk, and parking lot space, for instance, those in heavily urban areas, many suffered from the inability to provide their customers with outdoor seating and dining areas that would provide adequate spacing to maintain social distancing requirements. In response, a pedestrianized ‘streatery’ at Bergen Avenue was proposed.

The seating area, implemented and maintained by the Journal Square Special Improvement District, was once a turning lane overwhelmed by illegal and double-parking. Today, the fully-pedestrianized plaza provides visitors with socially-distanced and regularly sanitized tables and chairs, beautification by lovely plantings, and security provided by planters and traffic bollards. The colored pavement, further emphasizing the pedestrianized nature of the streatery to drivers and passersby. The area is now visited daily by local residents and commuters where they enjoy lunch and conversation.

The Tree House Café Parklet – West Side Avenue

Photo Credit: Commercial Services District

Jersey City’s West Side Avenue district, managed by the West Side Partnership, is home to a plethora of unique businesses ranging in size and sector. One of which is the Tree House Café – a colorful and eclectic coffee shop that brings the flair of Brooklyn to Jersey City by way of its owners and former Brooklyn residents, Frank and Diana Young. Like many businesses in the food sector, COVID-19 restrictions on indoor seating narrowed the Tree House Café’s ability to serve its customers. Further, the sidewalk immediately in front of the café did not have enough space to add seating that still provided pedestrians with the required space to travel though.

On behalf of the business, The West Side Partnership advocated to the city to provide the business with a parklet that would allow the café to accommodate visitors with a space to sit to enjoy their food and coffee. The partnership’s efforts were successful and the café welcomed a new parklet in August. The parklet was installed by the City and painted through a partnership with local artist, Mr. Mustart, to create a unique look that matches the business’ unique identity. While the implementation of the Tree House Café parklet was a crucial measure for the business, it also enhances the West Side Avenue streetscape, acting as a public art installation as well as a necessary seating area for Tree House Café customers.

Voucher Program for Newark Residents – Mt. Prospect Partnership

Photo Credit: Commercial District Services

The COVID-19 crisis has impacted communities all around the country, but perhaps no community was impacted more than Newark’s North Ward. The uncertainty caused by the temporary shut-down of businesses and the unprecedented “shelter-in-place” directives that were experienced statewide resulted in anxiety and fear, especially for those who are elderly and those who may have lost employment due to the crisis. In response to local concerns about lost income and the inability to keep up with necessary household expenses like food and childcare related items, Mt. Prospect Partnership and Bloomfield Avenue/Lower Broadway Alliance partnered with local elected officials and private stakeholders to raise more than $20,000 for a small business voucher program. The program provided vouchers in denominations of $25 for families to use on critical household items, including infant and child related care. Close to 300 families in the North Ward were served this past Spring. 

Downtown Cranford

In June, the Cranford Township Committee approved new resolutions that allowed businesses to use a portion of the municipal parking lot and that allowed for “fast tracked” outdoor dining expansion applications. The Township also approved the closure of Alden Street to vehicles from Thursday at 3pm to Sunday at 9pm for most of the summer for their Streatery Event. The option to have open streets, even for a short period of time, allowed for a more peaceful dining experience, more outdoor dining space for restaurants, and more space for pedestrians to walk and remain distant.  Downtown Cranford, in conjunction with Cranford Community Connection, also hosted an outdoor dining event – the Taste of Cranford. It was a grab-n-go event where people could patronize the downtown restaurants and then go sit in Eastman Plaza with seating provided by Downtown Cranford. 

Another event that was created in collaboration with the BID involved the local movie theater, which had been closed since March. The township and the owner of the Cranford Theater worked together to create a drive-in, so that people could safely go to the movies while also experiencing the nostalgia of a drive-in. As a way to support the drive-in, Downtown Cranford, in collaboration with the theater owner and about 40 other downtown businesses, held a promotional event inspired by the drive-in movie (Willy Wonka), a chance to win a Golden Ticket to attend the movie event. Each business purchased one or two tickets at $25 each, which were then given at random to customers. Anyone who wanted a chance to get a Golden Ticket and attend the movie had to shop at one of the participating retail stores or restaurants. The theater also reached out to Ferrara Candy Company and the company donated 365 candy items to one lucky participant – candy for each day of the year. Each car was given a Wonka Bar (a Crunch bar wrapped in a Wonka Bar wrapper) and within the wrapper, one person had the golden ticket to win the year’s supply of candy. 

Downtown Denville

Denville Township passed a resolution that gave directives and special rulings for outdoor dining. This emergency order included the option to turn parking spaces in front of restaurants into parklets. Downtown Denville, in cooperation with the Township, also implemented “Denville After Dark”, which closed a portion of a major thoroughfare – Broadway – to vehicular traffic on select Sunday’s from 5pm to 9pm.

Englewood Chamber of Commerce

As Englewood is a major regional center with two county highways and a major thoroughfare, it was not possible to close the streets to expand commerce. Instead of closed streets and parklets, the Englewood Chamber of Commerce (CoC) worked with the City of Englewood to established an outdoor garden in a parking lot that four restaurants have been utilizing for outdoor dining. Smaller restaurants are providing tables on the sidewalk in front of their establishments. Some next-door merchant neighbors have allowed restaurants to encroach upon their storefronts so these eateries have more room to place socially distant tables. Englewood CoC also developed and provided a weekly list of restaurants offering takeout, delivery, outdoor, and indoor dining through their website, Instagram, and on Facebook. There were also increased marketing efforts to bring residents back to the downtown through the Farmer’s Market, targeted sales, and street banners.

Exchange Place Alliance (Jersey City)

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Exchange Place Alliance has been working to ensure that its community and businesses continue to be supported through the expansion of outdoor space. The Exchange Place Alliance owns seasonal furniture that it sets out along the walkways and paths along the Hudson River and throughout different parts of the district to expand community public space. This season, the Exchange Place Alliance launched a rental program where businesses and restaurants within the district could rent the tables and chairs at a minimal price to use on the parklets that have been approved by Jersey City. The Exchange Place Alliance worked with local eateries and restaurants to set up outdoor seating with planters installed on the perimeter of the parklets to help the space feel more comfortable.

The Exchange Place Alliance also added planters in other areas of the district. One area was along the Montgomery Street corridor, which is highly traversed by vehicles and bicycles via newly created protected bicycle lanes. These planters have served as a way to bring more color and green assets into the district. In addition, they collaborated with the City to establish a Pedestrian Mall in Exchange Place Plaza, something that has been long awaited by the community. The Exchange Place Pedestrian Mall will be the first of its kind along the Hudson River in Jersey City and will bring a large amount of public open space for pedestrian use and will eventually be transformed into a new, green public park.

Lastly, the Exchange Place Alliance partnered with the Jersey City Department of Public Safety and other community stakeholders to increase uniform police patrols within the special improvement district, specifically along the waterfront. This greatly mitigated much of the loitering and litter that was observed in the early days of the summer. The Exchange Place Alliance was also able to concurrently utilize their Clean Team members to do a clean sweep of the district each morning to prepare the area for the day ahead.

Fort Lee Business District Alliance

The Business District Alliance of Fort Lee created a “Virtual Main Street” that allows residents to access and support the shops and restaurants of Fort Lee’s Town Center, without having to leave home. Earlier in the Summer the BDA announced that “Happy Hour” promotions would return through September 7th. The event was called “Happy to be Back” and over 25 businesses took part in the outdoor dining event. Fort Lee’s restaurant week was also back this year, with outdoor as well as indoor dining, curbside pickup, or delivery options at participating restaurants.

Hackensack Main Street

 The devastating Coronavirus crisis of 2020 became the focal action item for the Main Street Business Alliance (BA). Looking to help their merchants and property owners recover from the closure of their businesses, threatening their very existence, the Hackensack Main Street BA dedicated their entire budget to COVID-related rescue initiatives. The Restaurant Voucher Program, activated in two phases for over thirty participating restaurants was intended not only to help assist businesses on Main Street, but was also a “thank you” to frontline emergency workers in Hackensack. The positive response was overwhelming and heartfelt.

An ongoing initiative was daily email blasts, social media outreach and door to door information sessions to the merchants about the loan and grant programs available to them on a local, state and federal level. The Alliance’s board members helped individuals learn about their options and even stepped in to assist in the application process. This outreach continues and will sustain for as long as the pandemic affects Hackensack’s Main Street. Working with the Bergen County Small Business Economic Division has been a good partnership for the Hackensack Main Street BA.

Photo Credit: Hackensack Main Street Business Alliance

The Hackensack Main Street BA also worked with the City of Hackensack to create an Ordinance for Outdoor Dining, giving their restaurants much needed customer opportunities and assisted all their merchants with a lifeline of essential suggestions to keep their businesses open and vital.

Downtown Haddonfield

Despite the current crisis, businesses in Downtown Haddonfield have continued to be successful and two dozen new businesses have opened or expanded in the Downtown during this period. The Downtown, which is managed by the Partnership for Haddonfield (PfH), launched several campaigns in 2020 to counter-punch the COVID-19 crisis and maintain its position and business. Keeping the business district top of mind required the cooperation and attention of local government, volunteers, businesses, and a premier BID. 

To promote the Downtown, PfH worked with PR firm Suasion Communications Group, developed its ‘Open for Business’ campaign. The campaign showcased the ways to safely shop and dine during the pandemic and included a designated page on the website, DowntownHaddonfield.com, that listed business updates, offerings, guidelines, and protocols. As in-store shopping and al fresco dining opened, the ‘Open for Business’ campaign continued to evolve with updated messaging regarding safety protocols, additional openings, and other pertinent information.

Haddonfield businesses continue to adjust to the new normal by providing ways to safely shop in-store, online, with contactless curbside pick-up, and to safely dine in or outdoors or use takeout and delivery services. As a means to reassure visitors that Haddonfield cares deeply about their safety and well-being, the ‘Haddonfield Cares’ informational campaign was launched. The campaign highlights measures to keep everyone safe while shopping and dining. The Downtown is adhering to state guidelines by requiring visitors to wear masks indoors and outdoors when six feet of distance cannot be maintained.

August’s Super Summer Sale marked the return of in-person events to the downtown and proved to be a tremendous success. Additionally, plans for the return of a popular shopping extravaganza have recently been unveiled as Girls’ Day Out! with expanded hours was held on October 15th. Downtown Haddonfield’s Small Business Weekend celebration is scheduled for November 27th to the 29th and it will host its popular Candlelight Shopping event – taking place each Friday evening beginning Friday, November 27th until Friday, December 18th.

Historic District SID (Jersey City)

In an effort to ensure all business and property owners in the Historic District were aware of the applications and grants for loans and City/State affiliated relief efforts, the HDSID continuously worked with their businesses and with City officials throughout the pandemic and shared all the necessary documents. The HDSID also advocated for street closures so businesses could offer outdoor dining options and the City of Jersey City expanded the Newark St. Pedestrian Mall to include Grove Street, 1st Street, and Jersey Avenue.

To keep up awareness of the district the HDSID’s social media promotion of the downtown businesses didn’t cease during the quarantine and once businesses were allowed to reopen, banners indicating that the downtown corridor was “back to business” were placed throughout the district.  Planters and flowers were also placed in the downtown area courtesy of the HDSID. Throughout the quarantine and the lock-down, the Clean Team worked to ensure the downtown area remained clean and sanitary for residents.

HDSIDs “Black Friday Weekend at Downtown” promotion, is promoting local deals and specials so residents can start their holiday shopping locally. The district is also planning on hosting an outdoor Holiday Market in December so shoppers can do their holiday shopping while remaining socially distant. There are also plans to keep the Farmer’s Market, a fixture in the warmer months, running year-round.

Hoboken Business Alliance

The Hoboken Business Alliance (HBA) and City of Hoboken partnered together to proactively maximize outdoor space for businesses and provide safe areas for customers. The City of Hoboken adopted an ordinance that permits businesses to expand outdoor space on the sidewalk, create new shared outdoor spaces as strEATERIES and Parklets, and provides a framework for businesses to operate further into the street during scheduled road closures. The HBA has expanded Summer Streets, their open street program, through to the first week of October. The designated streets were open only to pedestrians every Thursday and Saturday, from 6pm to 11pm and 12pm to 8pm respectively.

The City and HBA also put together a strategy for Winter Outdoor Dining in order to continue sidewalk cafe expansion, strEATERY, parklets, and open streets through to the end of 2021. Parklets and strEATERY permits expire on October 31st but permit holders can apply for an extension by October 15th which will allow them to operate through next year. With indoor dining only allowed at 25 percent capacity providing the additional outdoor seating will continue to be an important aspect for Hoboken’s downtown.

Kearny UEZ

On June 9th, 2020, the Kearny Mayor and Council passed an ordinance which expanded outdoor dining options, extended the use of these options for the remainder of the year, and waived all typical application fees. Through this ordinance, Kearny has allowed eateries to utilize sidewalk cafés, outdoor dining in parking lots, and strEATERIES. A sidewalk café is defined as projecting a restaurant onto the public sidewalk immediately in front of the property. With the permission of neighboring businesses and their property owners, restaurants may apply to expand sidewalk cafés in front of adjacent businesses. A strEATERY, as defined in the ordinance, is a shared public space temporarily converting curbside parking space into an area specifically intended for outdoor dining. Most eateries and restaurants in town have been taking advantage of these options, primarily concentrated on Kearny Avenue and Passaic Avenue – the economic hubs of Kearny. Hours of operation for outdoor dining are permitted between 8am and 10:30pm.

In addition to its outdoor dining expansion ordinances, Kearny has launched multiple rounds of stimulus to support eateries, restaurants, and other small businesses. On August 4th, 2020, in coordination with the County of Hudson and Valley Bank, the Town of Kearny launched its $1.1 million Kearny CARES grant program to directly benefit small businesses in town hit hardest by the pandemic. The program provides one-time grants of up to $20,000 to help offset the significant impact COVID-19 has had on local businesses. Further, on May 6th, 2020, the Kearny Urban Enterprise Zone (KUEZ) launched its micro-loan program which provides up to 10,000 dollars (2% interest, 5 years) to eligible businesses. Permitted expenses for both programs include employee payroll, utility costs, rent, mortgage payments, and equipment.

Livingston

Livingston Township and the Livingston BID, eased some zoning standards as a way to help businesses re-open safely. These changes include easing restrictions on outdoor dining so restaurants could expand safely. Restaurants have been allowed to use sidewalk, parking space, and parking lots for socially distant outdoor dining. They have also been allowed to set up tents for protection against the elements. Fitness studios and retail shops have also been allowed to use their outdoor space for classes and sidewalk sales. The BID worked with many of their businesses to set up contactless payment, curbside pick-up, and online platforms to make it easier for customers to purchase their goods.

Maplewood

Through the use of resolutions rather than ordinances, Maplewood has eased some of the regulations that govern sidewalk use, outdoor dining, and parking. For example, restaurants can now expand their outdoor dining 100 feet in either direction, including placement in front of adjacent businesses, with their permission. If that is not possible then expanding the sidewalk in parking spaces in front of the establishment could also be considered. Maplewood’s goal through these resolutions is to be flexible and responsive to the changing landscape and to meet the needs of the downtown businesses.

Medford

In June, the Medford Town Council approved an ordinance that allowed food and beverage establishments to expand their premises into previously unusable land, such as expanding into parking lots or common areas as long as the right of way wasn’t blocked. There was a very simple permitting process and the township had put a priority on these applications so that businesses could move as quickly as possible getting things setup. It has really made a difference, especially in walking districts like Main Street. The unintended side effect of this is that while people are traveling through town, they notice Main Street more as they see more people sitting out on the sidewalk, dining or having a beer.

As with many other municipalities, Medford had to cancel their festivals for the year, which are a large source of tourism, fundraising, and business booms for the area shops. In an effort to have some sort of event, the township officials have restarted the Food Truck Nights which happen on the 3rd Thursday of each month. During August, September, and October there were two a month. The trucks are spread out among the street, and people are all outdoors wearing masks when they’re not eating. In October the Woman’s Club of Medford has its annual Scarecrow Contest happening, there are scarecrows on display on every lamppost on Main Street made by local businesses, organizations, and individuals. In lieu of the Annual Halloween Parade, on October 24th there will be a contactless trick or treat happening on Main Street.

Downtown Metuchen

The Borough of Metuchen passed a resolution that would temporarily ease restrictions pertaining to outdoor dining and retail and to provide flexibility for businesses before a full re-opening could occur. The application fee to expand outdoors was waived and the application reduced, making it easier for non-essential businesses to re-open as soon as was allowed by the state. Businesses were encouraged to not only use the sidewalks in front of their establishments, but also to convert street parking into parklets, activate alleyways, and use designated parking lots. Metuchen also closed New Street to vehicle traffic Friday at 4pm to Sunday at 11pm to allow for businesses with less sidewalk space to expand, as well as to ensure pedestrians have enough room to maintain a distance of six feet.

Additionally, Metuchen’s New Street Streatery was expanded. New Street was made one-way with the closing of the south side of New Street for one block between Main and Pearl Streets. Water filled barriers were placed down the middle of the street and at the ends, which allow several restaurants to establish more permanent outdoor dining spaces and put heated tents up to help get through winter. Expansions such as this will continue until restaurants can return to 100% capacity. The “New Streatery” was implemented September 21st. With permission from an owner, businesses could also be permitted to use private space if public space was not adequate. Over 30 businesses have taken advantage of these rule changes in one form or another.

Metuchen Downtown Alliance has also given out 40 “Reopening Grants”of $1,250 each to cover the costs of PPE, plexiglass dividers, outdoor dining furniture, rent assistance, and any other needs businesses might have. The total Reopening Grant amount was $50,000 and a second round of grants is being planned now. In preparation for the colder months ahead, Metuchen has purchased 65 electric infrared heaters that will be distributed to businesses. Supply chain disruptions that impact sourcing materials for colder weather is an issue the alliance is working through. From April to June MDA raised over $25,000 for “Feeding the Front Lines.” Meals and supplies were bought from local businesses and given to first responders as a thank you for their hard work.

Metuchen was one of three communities in New Jersey to secure a $19,000 grant from the AARP Community Challenge Grant program. The purpose of these grants is to spark “quick-actions” that can then be sustained for the long-term and ensure progress is made. Metuchen’s “quick action” project is aimed at improving livability for all residents, regardless of age, background, or ability as well as to support the response and recovery to the Coronavirus. In its 4th year of giving grants to support liveability, AARP is announcing the largest number of Community Challenge grants to date, awarding more than $2.4 million among 184 grantees across all 50 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In Metuchen the AARP grant is going towards the New Streetery, additional alley transformations, new lighting, and livability enhancements that help downtown businesses to remain economically viable and a place for people to safely gather together.

Montclair Center

Montclair Center Corporation

The Montclair Center Corporation worked with the Township of Montclair to close Church street to cars from 5pm-10pm Friday and Saturday and South Park Street from 5pm Friday to 3pm Sunday the weekend of July 17th and 18th. Both street closures encouraged expanded outdoor dining and foot traffic. South Park Street included bistro tables set out by the BID, sanitized between uses, for people to bring takeout orders as well as carefully spaced tents with some select local retailers who wish to sell outside. The BID absorbed costs for the first pilot weekend, including permits and the police.  The program continued on Saturdays only through September 26, with the Township covering the permitting and police expenses.

The BID is paying for the additional staffing and materials for the placemaking projects, while  DesignShed donated in-kind services for design for custom benches and placemaking work. In addition to the extra staffing for placemaking, the BID hired extra staff for the first Saturday of the pilot weekend to help with set up and to sanitize tables between use.

New Brunswick City Center

New Brunswick has always been an amazing place to escape and enjoy an unforgettable alfresco dining experience, but now the New Brunswick SID is raising the bar with an innovative and expansive outdoor dining plaza. As part of the “Re-Launch New Brunswick” campaign, the City of New Brunswick supported the closure of the City Center’s George Street to vehicular traffic Thursdays thru Saturdays: 4pm till midnight, & Sundays: 2pm till midnight. Residents and visitors are able to experience George Street like never before as it is transformed into a pedestrian dining plaza spanning from Albany Street to Bayard Street each weekend.

The closure also allows for restaurants throughout the city to create dining parklets on side streets. The SID collaborated with the parking authority to provide a 15-minute grace period for on-street meter parking and free 30-minute parking in the main garage to enable people to enjoy contactless curbside pick-up and grab take-out. They’ve also created a special employee monthly parking program and a 2hr validation program to assist the City Center small businesses. Once a month the City Center completely shuts down George Street, from Thursday through Sunday providing local businesses the enhanced ability to serve breakfast, lunch, brunch, dinner and late night snacks during a themed weekend experience.

The police department oversees all street closure logistics using city DPW barriers, in most areas, and work closely with each business on George St. to close and reopen the streets each weekend. The City expenditures are supported through a COVID funding. The SID is also covering the cost of programing musicians, open-air paint classes, and chalk art place making, using funds that would have otherwise been earmarked for larger events throughout the year. While foot traffic is decreased with students largely taking virtual classes and major offices locations have not yet reopened, the closed streets and music are attracting more New Brunswick residents, as well as residents from nearby towns, who want to enjoy the al fresco dining and entertainment. 

Another part of the “Re-Launch” campaign offers ‘themed weekends’ such as the Harvest weekend and the upcoming Kick-off weekend, heightening promotional opportunities and bringing in elevated musical acts and other artists. During the themed weekend experience, the City Center completely shuts down George Street, from Thursday through Sunday providing local businesses the enhanced ability to serve breakfast, lunch, brunch, dinner and late night snacks during a themed weekend experience.

Princeton

Princeton Council passed an ordinance which relaxed certain requirements that pertained to restaurants, cafes, other eateries, retailers, and other businesses. The ordinance also made bike boulevards possible throughout the borough as a way to encourage non-vehicular mobility around the Borough. Unfortunately, the Slow Streets initiative for residential streets was denied by NJDOT. This initiative would have made it possible to limit traffic on certain roads to local traffic. They would therefore no longer be used for through traffic. While slow streets were not implemented the Council did create a one way traffic pattern on Witherspoon St, between Nassau and Spring Streets. The Council also extended the sunset date the outdoor dining ordinance to December 31st, 2020. In addition, Princeton Shopping Center in cooperation with Sustainable Princeton and Princeton’s Environmental Film Festival, hosted an outdoor screening event in the shopping center green space.

Rahway Arts & Business Partnership

On July 13th, the City of Rahway, through the COVID-19 Small Business Recovery Strategy, permitted businesses to use Open Shared Outdoor Recreational Spaces. This particularly impacted health and wellness businesses as they were still closed as per the governor’s Executive Order. The city also created Temporary Special Use Permits for outdoor dining and retail. In order to increase foot traffic in the downtown, Rahway is encouraging residents to take part in the artist selfie stroll, where people can take images of murals throughout the city and then be eligible to win a gift card to stores. The selfie stroll is also being merged with a fall scavenger hunt for logos around the city. In Rahway’s outdoor spaces there is also chalk available to encourage people to create mini murals.

Red Bank RiverCenter

The Borough of Red Bank, the RiverCenter, and the Red Bank Business Alliance, worked together to create the Red Bank Recovery Plan that helped businesses in the recovery and re-opening process. A number of regulations have been temporarily relaxed, allowing restaurants to expand their footprint to include outdoor dining, and to allow other types of businesses to set up outdoor displays. To take advantage of this expanding footprint, which could include sidewalks, alleys, driveways, parking lots, on-street parking spaces, or other open spaces, businesses could submit a Temporary Outdoor Business Extension Application. The fee was waived. Red Bank also used temporary street closures along two streets, Broad and Monmouth streets, so businesses could extend their premises. The Borough Council also approved an ordinance which relaxed many regulations as well as designated the above streets as Outdoor Plazas during specified times. Businesses are also requesting to set-up parklets.  

Scotch Plains

The Township of Scotch Plains passed resolutions in June and August 2020 to encourage businesses to reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic by using parking lots and public spaces. For restaurants and cafes, the usual special use permit fee for outdoor dining was waived. The Township encouraged eateries to expand outdoor dining into available spaces, such as parking spaces behind their businesses. To encourage additional outdoor dining, the Township also put picnic tables on public property downtown to allow patrons to buy take-out from their favorite restaurant and enjoy a meal outside. 

Photo Credit: Summit Downtown, Inc.

Downtown Somerville

Downtown Somerville Alliance (DSA) received an approval from NJ Department of Transportation to extend the sidewalk along Main Street. Main Street Somerville makes up a portion of Route 38, which is a state road and is therefore under the jurisdiction of the NJDOT. After receiving the approval, the parklets were built in front of several restaurants along main street. Each parklet is 20’x6’. The initial plan was to temporarily close Main Street to vehicular traffic and create a pedestrian mall, similar to other towns, but DOT rejected that proposal.

Photo Credit: Summit Downtown, Inc.

In addition to the parklets, DSA created its own iteration of the Local Love challenge. Via Facebook, DSA challenged residents to support at least two businesses and created their own Local Love merchandise that was available to purchase. DSA also hosted its annual Summer Stage every Saturday on the Division Street Pedestrian Mall, all the while maintaining social distance and mask wearing. 

South Orange Village Center Alliance

The South Orange Village Center Alliance and South Orange Parking Authority, along with other businesses, created a plan that would allow restaurants, retail establishments, and other businesses to expand their footprint to include outdoor space. This could be sidewalks, parking lots, and parks. This plan also established a process for businesses to request 15-minute parking for curbside pickup. In addition, SOVCA launched a media campaign called “Back to Businesses” designed to coincide with reopening that visually conveys businesses are open and ready to serve the public and also reinforces the importance of shopping locally to the entire community. The campaign consists of storefront banners and social media posts highlighting individual store owners as a way of personalizing our businesses. Some of the slogans are straightforward, some are clever and some offer a bit of levity, just like our individual businesses.

Summit Downtown

Summit’s City Council obtained approval from NJDOT to close parts of Maple Street, in both directions, for an extended period of time to allow for street dining. Initially the closure was to end August 30th, but the city gained approval to keep the street closed through October 1st. The city council approved the measure until November 30th, however DOT only gives approval at 30-day increments. Over the summer, Summit Downtown created a plan that involved 27 restaurants and businesses, to create parklets or sidewalk cafes, in addition to the Maple Street closure. Summit Downtown also purchased outdoor lights for Maple Street to create additional lighting as well as to make the street more appealing to customers who are dining outside. 

Verona

Photo Credit: Verona Township

To help accommodate the restaurants that did not have their own private lots to set up in, the Township sectioned off a large area in one of the municipal parking lots and set up a large 20×30 tent for them to use free of charge.  They had to supply any tables, chairs, heaters, etc. but e provided the tent and the proper barriers to protect the area from traffic. The Civic Center driveway was also closed and picnic tables from the Townships pool were added to make additional space for dining. Leading up to the outdoor dining announcement, meetings were held with all the restaurant owners in town to discuss the options. Early on, there was a push from residents to shut down Bloomfield Avenue, a major artery through town, which is also a county road so the town decided not to. The Township Council passed an amended outdoor dining application prior to the Executive Order, so the restaurants had their approvals from the zoning official on the first day they were allowed to open for dining. 

Downtown Westfield Corporation

In addition to using sidewalks for outdoor dining, a temporary parklet was built along a portion of Prospect Street that could be used for dining purposes. Westfield also made Quimby Street one-way, with angled-parking converted to a parklet seven-days a week. This partial closure will remain so until Thanksgiving. The Downtown Westfield Corporation (DWC) purchased covers for the concrete barriers that form the parklet as a way to make the parklets more attractive and appealing.

Wildwood BID

Over the summer Wildwood BID was able to continue many of the mainstay events that are held each year, but with strict adherence to social distancing. In order to enforce social distancing the BID had extra staff and volunteers out at each event. Wildwood also closed streets for the entire summer and the BID beautified the area to attract more customers to the business on the street.

Downtown Bernardsville

Bernardsville Borough officials voted to expand guidelines for outdoor dining. Although these guidelines are set to expire by mid- to end of October. Downtown Bernardsville is working more on outdoor events for the fall season. First, is a Scarecrow Stroll which began on Sunday, October 18th and will run through the 31st. Downton Bernardsville has not had an event on this scale, but the hope is that an event like this will encourage visitors to walk around town. People will also be able to vote for their favorite scarecrow. Downtown Bernardsville is also bringing back their Holiday Gift Guide for the second year. Although not strictly, an expansion of business outdoors, the gift guide is a tool that will encourage people to come and spend time downtown.

Delaware River Towns Chamber of Commerce – Lambertville

Photo Credit: Delaware River Towns Chamber of Commerce

In the spring, The City of Lambertville expanded sidewalks into parking spaces to better accommodate more people, but some have taken this as a sign that downtown is closed.  For that reason, this decision was reversed, and the parking spots were reopened to parking. The City of Lambertville allowed businesses to construct parklets in front of their businesses and the city added their own parklet to North Union Street for anyone to use. Permits for outdoor heating elements have been fast-tracked to extend the season. 

Photo Credit: Delaware River Towns Chamber of Commerce

A new initiative, Love Our Lambertville, was created (www.loveourlambertville.com) to beautify and market the city. Out of the initiative, a new welcome banner was hung across Bridge Street and new welcome flags will be installed on lamp posts to make the city look more inviting.  Musicians were invited to perform throughout the city on the weekends. The city also partnered with ACME Screening Room, a non-profit weekly film series, to re-create the ACME Screening Room into a drive-in theater located on the parking lot behind the Spokeworks Building.

Ridgewood

Early on, Ridgewood started a “Feed the Frontlines” campaign that raised funds to pay for meals prepared by local restaurants to be delivered to hospitals and first responders. Once restaurants and retail shops were able to open again, the businesses, with the municipality’s cooperation, created a pedestrian mall on Saturdays and Sundays by closing a significant portion of the downtown to vehicular traffic. The pedestrian mall has been a huge success and has even expanded to the west side of town, which has been dubbed the West Village. The merchants have worked closely with volunteers to bring in musicians, dancers and other performers to create a fun and lively atmosphere for shoppers and diners downtown. Volunteers have coordinated vigorous social media to highlight individual businesses through videos as well. The weekend of October 17th Ridgewood is hosting a socially distant Oktoberfest, complete with hayrides, bands and a kids’ corner.

Washington Borough BID (Warren County)

Restaurants and bars opened for outdoor dining on sidewalks. To promote businesses downtown, banners were placed throughout the Borough to let people know that the downtown is open for business. The annual Festival has been cancelled, but the farmers market is still operating.

Westwood

Since April, the Mayor’s Economic Advisory Group has been working closely with Council members, the Westwood NJ Chamber of Commerce, property owners, and business owners across multiple industries to assess immediate and longer term needs. Retailers have been permitted to expand their operations outside their storefronts to offset interior social distancing restrictions. Expanded retail options began on June 15th.

Restaurants have been permitted to expand their outdoor dining beyond their storefronts laterally, if agreements have been reached between adjacent businesses/property owners, restaurants could also expand along building front, rear, and side facades. Restaurants have also been permitted to expand their outdoor dining into private parking lots, thus temporarily relaxing zoning permissions and parking requirements. They can also expand their outdoor dining into parking spots along municipal streets. These “streateries” echo a parklet program Councilwoman Jodi Murphy had promoted last year and seeks to strike the delicate balance between offering eateries additional space while also permitting traffic to flow safely through the borough. Eateries that hold a liquor license have been allowed to expand sale and consumption beyond their interior premises, in accordance with State ABC laws and licenses. Additional public seating was created in Veterans’ Memorial Park so residents could enjoy their takeout.

The municipal government is also committed to reducing the barriers businesses face in reopening, balancing temporary premise expansions and use of municipally controlled properties with the need to keep the Hub open and accessible through safe pedestrian and vehicular access and available parking.