For The Locals

LOS ANGELES - JUNE 13: Evening traffic passes downtown high-rises along the 110 freeway on June 13, 2004 in Los Angeles, California.

New Jersey has a plethora of booming downtown areas like Jersey City, Hoboken, Cranford, Asbury Park, and many more. However, only one is currently in the running to be named the best in the U.S. and it’s one of the more low-key cities in the Garden State.

The Metuchen Downtown Alliance has been selected as one of Main Street America’s eight semifinalists for the 2023 Great American Main Street Award.

“The significance of this moment cannot be overstated as Westfield and Montclair are the only other previous winners in the state of New Jersey,” Mayor Jonathan Busch said on Facebook.

Metuchen and the seven other cities who have made the semifinals have been “recognized for their exemplary use of the Main Street Approach™ to transform their downtowns and neighborhood business districts.”

The New Jersey downtown was specifically chosen for uplifting their local business owners. “From painting the words ‘Shop Small, Shop Local’ on the railroad bridge that crosses over the town’s Main Street to using Small Business Saturday as a springboard for an entire month of promotional activities, Metuchen Downtown Alliance truly walks the walk when it comes to creating a culture of supporting small businesses.”

The site added, “The organization hosted their first retail promotion activity in 2016 with Small Business Saturday deals and prizes. The success of this event spurred the organization to expand programming to include multi-cultural celebrations, holiday contests, a winter market, and themed promotional days to appeal to early bird and last-minute shoppers alike.”

The city has also continuously supported its entrepreneurs’ growth not only during the holiday season. “Metuchen Downtown Alliance fosters goodwill and transformative placemaking activities year-round as well with quarterly member meetings, inclusive pop-up input sessions that encourage residents of all ages and backgrounds to envision enhancements to alleys and facades, and matching grant programs to assist merchants with improving their storefronts, accessing technology, and enhancing marketing efforts.”

The winning downtown areas will be announced in March during the Main Street Now Conference held in Boston, Mass.

Take a look at what other downtowns across the country are competing against Downtown Metuchen:

  • River District Association – Danville, Virginia

    Find out why the River District Association has been nominated per Main Street: The River District Association is well known for its collaborative leadership and ethos of sharing successes. Through developing and maintaining strong partnerships with the City of Danville, the local regional foundation, SBDC, businesses, and other groups, the organization has created a fertile environment for economic vitality in their Main Street district. Initiatives to improve façades, develop regional entrepreneurship ecosystems, and match small business technical assistance with start-up funding are points of pride for the organization that have also resulted in a drastic increase of their commercial occupancy rate and welcoming more than 150 businesses downtown. The organization’s ambitious work plans also includes commitments to historic preservation of the district’s buildings, organizational capacity building, and projects to increase connections between the natural and built environment.

  • Denison Main Street – Denison, Texas

    Find out why the Denison Main Street in Texas was nominated per Main Street: Denison Main Street’s signature economic vitality programs offer examples of future-focused planning. Recognizing that the downtown area needed to take bold steps to manage unprecedented development interests and economic growth, they initiated Operation Increase Occupancy. Since 2011, this program has assembled a suite of tools designed to nurture the transformation to vibrancy while preserving retail spaces for local entrepreneurs. Window displays in vacant buildings, the establishment of an Entertainment District to support more outdoor entertainment venues, and incentives for destination eateries and beverage makers has created fertile ground for the community to reclaim downtown’s vacant spaces and transform them into vibrant places. Denison Main Street also credits their past successes and bright future to their partnerships with local history, heritage, and arts organizations that increase the program’s capacity to recruit and train volunteers, host cultural events downtown, and harness the transformative power of the arts and creative economy.

  • Downtown Florence Main Street – Florence, South Carolina

    Check out Downtown Florence Main Street: Downtown Florence’s district is the definition of small, but mighty: encompassing just eight blocks, visitors find a jewel box of exceptional local dining, award-winning entertainment venues, unique shopping, and architectural gems—from stately early 19th and early 20th century commercial buildings to Craftsman and Post War-ear residential neighborhoods. In the coming years over 150 units of new housing will add more residents to the mix. Similarly, Downtown Florence Main Street’s robust volunteer program is a powerhouse that engages hundreds of community members annually. Dedicated volunteers return every year to lead the production of major festivals with a commitment to excellent and iterative improvement. Meanwhile, various advisory committees provide insight into the needs and concerns of residents and small businesses, as well as increase opportunities for local creatives to install public art downtown and youth to access workforce development opportunities.

  • Mills 50 Main Street – Orlando, Florida

    Take a look at Mills 50 Main Street: Mills 50 Main Street is proof that art has the power to transform communities. Known as the “artsy district,” Mills 50 Main Street is home to over 30 murals, 29 “art boxes,” 15 “art dumpsters,” and more than 20 “art drains.” Reflecting the intersection of two major thoroughfares that inspire their name, the organization is also known for embracing creativity and culture. They partner with local AAPI organizations like the Asian American Chamber of Commerce and Amerasian Bank to produce the award-winning Central Florida Dragon Parade, and LGBT+ Center Orlando for Pride Month festivities. Since they launched in 2008, they have partnered with city departments and others to support a vibrant small business ecosystem in their urban district, bringing the vacancy rate from 40% to 3%.

  • Ruston Main Street – Ruston, Louisiana

    Find out why Ruston Main Street in Louisiana was selected: Ruston Main Street is the heart, soul, and economic engine of this Louisiana college town. With the district also being home to the Louisiana School for the Blind, Ruston Main Street, in partnership with local leaders, put accessible infrastructure at the core of its transformation strategy, burying power lines, installing uniform curbs, and leveling sidewalks to create a safe, walkable downtown. Annual events like the Louisiana Peach Festival, Juneteenth celebration, and farmers’ market preserve and celebrate local heritage and support the local economy. From the centrally located Railroad Park and the Rock Island Greenway corridor connecting downtown to Louisiana Tech University, to unique businesses, vibrant restaurants, and innovative third spaces like Heard Freight House Food Truck Park, this district is welcoming to every resident, student, and visitor.

  • Downtown Sheridan Association – Sheridan, Wyoming

    Check out the Downtown Sheridan Association per Main Street: Sheridan’s Main Street is the perfect combination of modern hospitality, western charm, historic architecture, and natural beauty. They have worked hard to bring businesses back to the district, using design upgrades and business outreach to reduce the vacancy rate by half. Through a unique partnership with the Sheridan College Horticulture program, Downtown Sheridan Association organizes 30-50 volunteers who assist with planting and hanging 225 streetlamp flower baskets in the spring and taking them down in the fall, a beloved annual activity that builds community while creating a welcoming downtown for residents and visitors alike. Downtown Sheridan Association also works with partners to host the annual First People’s Pow Wow, a one-of-a-kind event that is unique in its participation and pageantry, featuring Native American dancers and drummers in full regalia, performing traditional ceremonial dances.

  • Downtown Sykesville Connection – Sykesville, Maryland

    Take a look at Downtown Sykesville Connection per Main Street: Named the “Coolest Small Town in America” by Budget Travel in 2016, downtown Sykesville is a place where traditional historic charm meets future-focused modern amenities. Their district features streets lined with restored storefronts and electric car chargers, historic sites and vibrant public art displays, and unique all-local culinary experiences inspired by the Patapsco River and railroad industry. Robust business support services, including trend forecasting, educational workshops, social media tools, and merchandising, have helped bring their vacancy rate down to zero. Downtown Sykesville Connection’s robust committees and volunteer programs engage community members in events and activities, and have invested over 34,000 hours of service into downtown since 2011. The Green Committee, for example, brings together residents of all ages, neurodiversities, and experiences to maintain community gardens, renovate parks, and lead litter-free campaigns.