METUCHEN – In what was a tool to make it easier for customers to connect with area restaurants, the Metuchen Delivers campaign has taken on a new profound meaning in the wake of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
Isaac Kremer, executive of the Metuchen Downtown Alliance (MDA), said early on the borough and area restaurants worked together to launch the Metuchen Delivers campaign, which highlights downtown businesses that provide delivery. The MDA was launched in 2016.
Governor Phil Murphy declared a state of emergency and a public health emergency on March 9 to “contain the spread of COVID-19.”
Metuchen followed suit. Metuchen Police Lt. Arthur Flaherty, emergency management coordinator for the borough, declared a local state of emergency and local disaster declaration through a proclamation on March 16.
Kremer said “when it became clear closures were imminent” Mayor Jonathan Busch and borough officials convened a meeting of restaurants to discuss what was happening and get some input on next steps.
The MDA has been working with businesses even more to transition to delivery and takeout.
“Some fine dining businesses are needing to retool their operation for more meal delivery service operations,” Kremer said, adding they quickly went into action sharing information with impacted businesses – especially those faced with immediate closure.
“In the last 48 hours I’ve spoken with owners of close to 100 businesses,” he said. “While each is different, most conversations focus on resources available to help them and their employees, asking them ‘what are you doing next?’ and giving people a chance to verbalize what they are thinking and going through.”
Kremer said a simple business tracking tool is being used to get input on critical issues – layoffs, access to funding, and if they are concerned about utility shutoffs.
“The same set of questions is asked of every business I contact and the results recorded,” he said. “We are also tracking all businesses that shut down and when. This baseline data will prove helpful in identifying needs and to target resources to businesses.”
The MDA is encouraging businesses to apply for incentive programs including the SBA (Small Business Administration) Disaster Assistance Loans. Kremer said he is constantly updating the MDA’s “Advice for Businesses” document.
“We’re encouraging residents to support businesses throughout this crisis, while also preparing for the comeback,” Kremer said. “The way I describe it to everyone is that once this is over, it will be like everyone has their grand opening at the same time.”
The borough is taking the lead with the MDA in reaching out to property owners to make sure the needs of local businesses are provided for as sales drop off and their ability to cover their overhead diminishes.
And while there is no moratorium for commercial utility cut-offs at this time, Kremer said they are identifying businesses in risk of being cut-off so that they can more effectively advocate on behalf of each of them.
Kremer said they are connecting with colleagues statewide and nationally to keep an eye on trends.
“One such call [on March 13] with downtown leaders from Austin, Seattle and Denver gave some insight into what to expect the next few days/weeks here in New Jersey,” he said.
Kremer said he encourages businesses to reach out to him at any time for help and assistance.
“My stance is approximately 90% business outreach and 10% continuity of operations for our downtown organization,” he said. “Our central goal is to help every one of our businesses and owners get through the uncertainty we face.”
Businesses are also being directed to the Small Business Development Center out of Rutgers University for additional assistance. The center is providing remote assistance and may be available for small group meetings.
Finally, the MDA is actively pushing out messages on social media to their businesses and the public, giving needed information and encouragement to get through the difficult times ahead.
Businesses are encouraged to use the #onemetuchen hashtag when posting on social about what they are doing to get through the weeks ahead.
The Metuchen Downtown Alliance is a non-profit public-private partnership, led by Kremer, that manages and markets the downtown for the borough, working with a volunteer board and businesses to develop a strategic plan identifying new retail and other businesses to recruit for Metuchen and connect businesses with landlords that have vacancies.
The district area, which consists of only commercial businesses and/or commercial businesses with residential units, includes the Metuchen SportsPlex on Durham Avenue down Middlesex Avenue with the new development to Main Street and Amboy Avenue.
For more information, visit www.downtownmetuchen.org/love-love-metuchen-do/. For a link to Metuchen Delivers visit www.downtownmetuchen.org/metuchendelivers/.