The seventh Metuchen Downtown Alliance (MDA) Annual Meeting was held virtually on Thursday evening, January 20, 2022. Over three dozen people participated in the meeting.
MDA Chairman Eric Berger thanked a number of people including Allison Inserro and Jay Muldoon who had the foresight of forming the MDA in 2015. He also thanked volunteers, Executive Director Isaac Kremer, MDA Board Members, the Borough of Metuchen and Main Street New Jersey (MSNJ) who have invaluable partners, the MDA Member Businesses and Property Owners, and the entire Metuchen community who has supported businesses.
Berger said, “MDA has had a significant positive impact, most notably in the past couple of years, bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars to help sustain our businesses when they needed it most. It has also had a huge impact on the look and the feel of the town. Metuchen has weathered the storm far better than any community I know of, and MDA has played a significant role in that.” He then called on volunteers, the community, and others for their continued support.
Joanne Cruz, owner of Creative Twist Events and Newmarket joined the Board as a new trustee. Eric Berger said “she has been highly collaborative with other businesses downtown, and an exceptional volunteer.”
Dan Cea during the Communications Team report highlighted success on getting the downtown Metuchen story out through earned and unearned media. Eleven videos were produced through Metuchen Media in cooperation with the Borough of Metuchen. The Google My Business Page for MDA garnered over 60,000 views. In the coming year two campaigns will focus on Humans of Metuchen and the Meet the Merchant.
The Metuchen Monthly Newsletter now goes out on the 1st day of each month. Past issues are on the MDA website where people can also subscribe: https://www.downtownmetuchen.org/guidelines.
Bobbie Theivakumaran, chair of the Promotions Team, highlighted 19 retail promotions that were held in 2021. These included the largest Juneteenth Celebration in the area, a Downtown Breakdance Competition, and the Hispanic Heritage Celebration offered for the first time in 2021 and which will be repeated in 2022.
Several favorite promotions like Downtown Rumble and the New Year’s Party were repeated in 2021 and will continue. Bobbie said about the promotions, “We love hearing about families that come and visit the area. With promotions we make sure there is a little bit of expect the unexpected.”
Jay Muldoon, a member of the Grant Team provided an overview of Storefront Improvements and the Blade Sign Pilot Project in 2021. Grants were awarded to Terrace Plant Shop, Pastry Lu, DiCosmo Italian Ice, Angie’s Café, and Tribos Peri Peri. Grants help with windows and window displays, exterior painting, new signage, store layout, and improving the entrance.
Blade signs were designed and installed for Pastry Lu, Nauti Cajun Crab, Metuchen Liquor & Wine, and What’s the Scoop. Jay said “Blade signs are important. They help pedestrians locate businesses in our walkable downtown.”
Design Guidelines are available to view on the MDA website at https://www.downtownmetuchen.org/guidelines. There is also a “Do’s and Don’ts” link to help with planning projects. Finally there is an online application that businesses are required to fill out to be considered for funding.
The Public Art Team reported started with Beryl Koblin, Public Art Team Co-Chair, announcing completion of the Mural in Imagination Alley and the release of the Public Art Video that highlighted public art throughout Metuchen. https://youtu.be/4HlM8Euewqk.
The Piano Project placed pianos painted by New Jersey artists throughout town beginning in June. The Metuchen Arts Council recruited musicians to perform. Grant funding for performances was provided by the Middlesex County Board of County Commissioners through a grant award from the Middlesex County Cultural and Arts Trust Fund in 2021.
In 2022 artist Raúl Ayala and his students from the Rutgers Mason Gross School of Fine Arts will install a 210 square foot mural called Childhood Memories. According to public art co-chair Laura Griffith, “this is a universal theme that inspires joy, brings us all together, and creates a welcoming experience for everybody.” Installation will occur in Spring 2022. https://www.downtownmetuchen.org/childhood-memories/
MDA Executive Director Isaac Kremer provided an overview of the work plan of the organization and showed results. This included 563.2 Hours of Cleaning, watering, and maintenance services, which according to Kremer helped with “relieving our overworked DPW especially on weekends to get this needed work done, creating value for businesses and taxpayers as well.”
In 2021, there were 11 business openings in downtown Metuchen. This built on the total of 137 business openings since 2016.
Volunteers contributed 4,884 hours of time in 2021. Standard volunteer hours were valued at $20 per hour and professional hours at $75 per hour. The value of 25,388 total volunteer time contributed since 2016 is $641,630. Kremer said “It is really by and through our volunteers that we achieve the results of our program.
Next Kremer spoke about a partnership with the Small Business Development Center at Rutgers. Seven businesses were referred and 85% of these received consultations. Several businesses received training. This built on the 66 businesses referred to the SBDC since 2018.
Metuchen Lights was supported through $31,750 from 12 sponsors secured by the Borough of Metuchen and Mayor Jonathan Busch. This built on funding going back to 2016 that Metuchen has put into holiday lights.
One of the most important stats shared was the private investment in downtown Metuchen. Several businesses opened and expanded, which contributed to total private investment of $164,817,671 since 2016. Kremer said, “this puts Metuchen in an elite group of downtowns not just in New Jersey but nationally achieving that level of investment in that period of time.”
Public investment has continued with local, county, state and federal investment continuing. This includes street and sidewalk improvements, and new gas line upgrades in 2021. The total public investment since 2016 is $3,510,776.
MDA has attracted $905,802 of outside funding beyond the SID Assessment and Borough Contribution received each year. The expectation is that MDA will surpass $1 million dollars in 2022.
Before concluding, Kremer noted how additions to Gross Leasable Area have been shrinking since 2016. In 2021 it was negative due to lost square footage. Kremer said “the lack of space will prevent businesses from opening in Metuchen. This is something we need to take a close look at and have a good balance between supply and demand.”
Responding to some common misperceptions, Kremer highlighted how business retention is our recruitment strategy. Supporting that are the facts that 83% of businesses opened downtown are still open, local businesses keep 73% of revenue locally, and they give 350% more charitable donations. Kremer said, “the most likely source of a new business is not from outside, it is from an existing business or local resident.”
To conclude Kremer gave the bottom line of MDA’s work
- Volunteers are driving the revitalization of downtown
- Cleaning, watering, and maintenance services continue
- 52 storefront improvement grants have been awarded
- 66 referrals to the Small Business Development Center
- 98 retail promotions
- 8 public art projects
- Over 35 million media impressions and views
- And $168,970,007 of reinvestment.
Kremer said, “the bottom line is for every $1 of Borough and Special Improvement District funding that $104.39 return on investment has been created.” He then challenged anyone to find a better return on investment than that.
In a closing thought Isaac shared a quote from Judy Wicks, founder of the White Dog Café in Philadelphia and author of Good Morning, Beautiful Business.
Awards were given in several categories to businesses and volunteers:
- Business Champion Award – Joanne Cruz, Creative Twist Events
- District Owner Award – Edgar and Angie Quinonez, Angie’s Cafe
- Promotion Award – Amarpreet Singh, Metuchen News
- Innovation Award – Alberto Buglione and Ivan Guarducci, Mangia Toscano
- Storefront Improvement Award – Luisania Moronta, Pastry Lu
- Public Service Award – Linda Koskoski, Council Member
- Board Service Award – Jacquie Zuvich, Metuchen Area Chamber of Commerce
- Volunteer of the Year – Jay Muldoon
Jay Muldoon upon being named volunteer of the year said, “there are some people who think Metuchen is not a community of volunteers any more… We are a community of volunteers, not just with the MDA. All of us volunteer so many ways in town.”
Metuchen Downtown Alliance was founded in 2016 and is a volunteer-based, nonprofit downtown management corporation dedicated to the management and revitalization of the designated Metuchen Downtown District in partnership with stakeholders, residents, municipal government, and other partners. Please check out our website and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.