Metuchen Storefront Improvement Program

Design Guidelines

The Metuchen Downtown Alliance has developed these guidelines to assist businesses in the Downtown District. They deal with the Interior of your business, Exterior of your business including windows lighting and signage, and Public Spaces. The character and variety of our streets, buildings, and public spaces makes Downtown Metuchen stand out. We urge you to review these guidelines and determine what storefront improvements you would like to make before submitting an application.

Building, sidewalks, and awnings

  • What’s the first piece of store or building you can begin to see walking? Driving? Day? Night? How does the store or building appear?
  • Awnings – no tears, moss, dirt, fading or outdated information; is the underside clean and cobweb free?
  • Awnings text – should have text on valance only, don’t apply signage to the sloped portion.
  • Awning material – should be canvas, do not use metal or vinyl as an awning material
  • Tree wells and planters – is landscaping alive and pruned? Are elements the right scale? No weeds!
  • Window ledges – no cobwebs, dead flies, trash, peeling paint, mud/dust (clean inside and outside)
  • Sidewalks, curbs and parking areas – no garbage, cigarette butts, gum. Do not overload sidewalks with too much stuff.

Colors

  • 3 or 5 color scheme depending on architectural details
  • Brand appropriate; refreshed within the last 3 years
  • Draw attention to or minimize areas of greater or lesser importance with choice and application of colors

Lighting

  • Lighting – is your entryway landing pad directly in front of door adequately illuminated?
  • Do you have the necessary layers of lighting? Architectural lighting, general wayfinding lighting, signage lighting, window display lighting?
  • Correct light bulbs; LED’s at the right color temperature (Kelvin), in the right beam spread and correct CRI.
  • 100% functional with all working and none partially working or burnt out.
  • Does exterior lighting remain on after hours to improve visibility for your business and safety of the sidewalk/street?
  • Does interior lighting focus on products and direct customers? Track lighting on a continuous run provides opportunities to light any surface in the store.
  • LED lights or rope lights around from of windows should be removed. This is a tactic better suited for the highway than a walkable attractive downtown where they distract the eye from other storefront elements.
  • LED “Open” Signs – should not be used, people should know you are open because your windows are colorful, bathed in light, and fun to look into.

Signage

  • Style – appropriate for your district and adequate quantity for number of viewing angles.
  • Placement – is your signage placed in an intuitive, unobstructed location or is it too high? Too big? Wrong angle?
    • For drivers – in an area they can see without having to take their eyes off the road for too long. Drives can read a maximum of four words.
    • For pedestrians – in an area they can see as they approach on foot; do awnings assist or obstruct?
  • Scale – readable font or identifiable graphics when glanced at in motion at a distance.
  • Graphics – current, unique and professionally or creatively applied; textures or layers add interest and value.
  • Content – avoid too much information such as tag line, phone, website, specials, etc. on your primary sign. Keep it to your store/business name only.
  • Blade sign – visible from sidewalk to draw customers in by seeing from a distance, make store visually interesting, and illuminated to be visible at night? Do not overload blade signs with too much text. Center blade sign over main entrance where possible.
  • Internally lit signs – are outdated and should not be used. Use external bullet lights or gooseneck lights instead.
  • Temporary banners – should never be used as permanent signage. Local ordinances allow banners to be put up no longer than 60 days.
  • Tape – never use tape on windows. It’s cheap looking and unprofessional. Ask MDA for reusable cling frames.

Window displays

  • Your company sign, if placed on the glass, shouldn’t block the view in to your store. Signage should not exceed 10% of window surface area per local ordinance.
  • Is your display current, colorful, and/or high contrast, well balanced and 3-D?
  • Keep lights on 24 hours and replace burnt out bulbs.
  • Good focused display lighting vs. ambient spray.
  • Do you have enough light fixtures in your window display? Correct light bulbs? Where are they aimed?
  • What’s visible through the reflections in the glass? Lights? What walls and colors can you see?
  • Are all posters, stickers and clutter that detract from your store brand and message removed. Soapy water and a razor blade can loosen stickers and decals.
  • If blinds or curtains – what color and condition are they? Dark colors are better than light to match the naturally dark color of the windows.
  • Never create or allow a blank visible backside to anything. Posters in window should be double sided so they can be seen by customers coming in and when going out. If your shopper can see it – you need to manage it. Whatever you do has to work from all perspectives.
  • Painting of windows – never paint windows. These are a selling surface. Painting windows limits visibility and turns a window into a wall. For window graphics use vinyl instead of paint.
  • White shades and blinds – never use these as they make the naturally dark window look like a wall with the lighter colors, use dark window shades or blinds instead.

Streetscape staging

  • Place groups of larger scale pieces, mannequins or other related props outside in your furnishings zone as space allows
  • Allow for adequate pedestrian room. Local ordinances require six feet wide passage so a stroller or wheelchair can get through.
  • Can pedestrians walk by without having to stop and navigate around obstructions?
  • Arrange merchandise by stacking, angling and filling vs. simply leaning against the wall.

Entrance(s)

  • Floor – finished, coordinated, safe, undamaged; is walk – off matt present? Is it long enough?
  • Entrance door – vinyl with address at top of door or in transom (if one exists), logo at eye level, simplified hours below, and contact info at lowest quarter portion of door.
  • Business Hours and contact information – when listing hours do not use “:00”, group days with same hours (Mon-Thurs, 8am-6pm), and keep info current, readable, positive present tense, branded, and located correctly on door
  • No duplicate or unnecessary stickers (How many VISA stickers do you really need?)
  • Sightline into store – keep unobstructed so you can see where your next step inside will be.
  • Door & door pull – glass cleaned every hour of smudges; door pulls are opportunities for personal expression.
Here are our "Do's and Don'ts." Please review these when planning your storefront improvement project.

Technical Assistance

These Metuchen Downtown Alliance Design Guidelines are meant to provide some general guidance and direction. We encourage you to utilize all the resources available to help achieve design excellence for your business and/or property. A few of these follows.

  • Main Street New Jersey Storefront and Façade Design Guidelines. These guidelines may be used to promote quality and appropriate design characteristics and materials use in a Main Street NJ District for building rehabilitation and new construction. These guidelines reflect best practices in present-day storefront and façade appearance and functionality and would help property and business owners make effective investments as they seek to improve their property’s appearance. They are created with the end user (the property or business owner) in mind. Structured as guidelines, they are not regulatory in nature, unless the Main Street District’s municipality chooses to adopt them. However, any Main Street NJ Transformation Grant project involving storefront and/or façade enhancement is required to meet or exceed the guidelines.
  • Main Street New Jersey Placemaking Guidelines. These guidelines are recommended for placemaking projects in a Main Street District and apply to the creation of new places and enhancement of existing places. The guidelines are required for MSNJ Transformation Grants
  • Design assistance from the Metuchen Downtown Alliance. We provide free guidance to businesses and owners in the Downtown District. Recommendations will be made in a visually attractive report for how to improve your building and storefront. Please contact the Metuchen Downtown Alliance to request these design services. See next section for the link to apply and for a description of the program.

Financial Assistance

In addition to technical assistance there is funding available to help you with making improvements.

  • MDA Storefront Improvement Matching Grant. These grants assist with implementation of recommendations for storefront improvements. To start the process applicants must submit the MDA Storefront Improvement Matching Grant application to describe your proposed project. You’ll be required to get property owner approval, a minimum of two quotes, any required permits, and to submit the quotes and permits to MDA before starting work. Once work is complete and all contractors are paid, you will receive reimbursement for half of the project costs up to $5,000 per business per year. MDA has the right to reject any project that it deems not to meet the goals of the program at its sole discretion or to limit the funding to any or all projects in order to provide assistance to the maximum number of applicants. Upon receiving your application MDA will set up a meeting with you in the next 5 to 10 days to review your project in detail and explain more about the process. APPLY HERE.
  • 20% Federal Rehabilitation Tax Credit. There is a 20% tax credit for historic properties listed on the National Register of Historical Places or locally designated. An owner interested in receiving tax credits would need to first get their property designated historic.
  • Other financing. There are a variety of other funding sources. Community Development Finance Institutions (CDFI) provide funding for projects. We encourage utilizing local financial institutions as well to get funding for your project. The MDA is happy to help make connections with funders.