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Metuchen Downtown Alliance’s focus on strengthening town’s foundation allows for quick pivot during COVID-19

Papillon & Co, Metuchen

METUCHEN – As the economic toll of COVID-19 continues to affect businesses nationwide, new independent establishments continue to open in Metuchen after Metuchen Downtown Alliance (MDA), the town’s volunteer-driven downtown management and revitalization organization, awarded 40 local businesses with reopening grants.

“Five new businesses have confidently moved forward with their opening plans during this challenging pandemic, while the Metuchen Downtown Reopening Grant program worked with existing businesses to assist them with the costs of reopening in safe, timely, and effective ways,” Isaac Kremer, MDA executive director, said in a statement prepared by Punchline Publicity. “What we put in place years ago has set us up for the positive outcomes we’re seeing today,” Kremer said.

The MDA’s five-year Strategic Plan was adopted in August 2017 after an intensive year of business and consumer surveys, SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) examinations, and retail market analyses.

With a concrete plan to transform the Metuchen downtown into a more family-friendly and innovative place, the MDA has been creating incremental yet sustainable change via downtown events and experiences, the promotion and storefront restoration of Metuchen’s variety of retail shops, restaurants, and service businesses, increased engagement with community stakeholders, and significant improvements to streetscapes, according to the statement.

The strategy, which has attracted more than 50 unique and entrepreneurial small businesses to Metuchen’s historic downtown since its implementation, has allowed current occupancy to remain high and stable despite this time of financial insecurity – and even put Metuchen ahead of the curve prior to the pandemic, according to the statement.

“For example, the MDA worked to create a one-stop shop online business directory, which made it easier for local businesses to sell products, gift cards, services, and more to customers looking for delivery and curbside services, especially during COVID-19,” Kremer said in the statement.

Then, when the pandemic began, the MDA began assisting with applications for Economic Injury Disaster Loans, the Paycheck Protection Program, and more, while providing COVID-19 business resources online, including small business grants, low interest loans, and important legislative updates.

It also created the Metuchen Downtown Reopening Grant program for when business restrictions were lifted.

“The Metuchen Downtown Reopening Grant program was in many ways the MDA at its best, doing something no other organization was capable of – providing needed funding to local businesses struggling to survive and reopen,” Jay Muldoon, MDA board member, said in the statement.

For Isolation Fitness, the grant allowed owner Kyle Little to pay rent and utility bills, Little said.

For What’s the Scoop, a homemade ice cream shop, it meant the purchase of a new freezer, owners Michael and Michelle Schutz said.

And for Title Boxing Club, it meant the purchase of audio equipment for outdoor fitness classes, owner Joe Walsh said.

“Their support and frequent communication will never be forgotten by our team,” Walsh said in the statement.

The remaining businesses used the grants to improve signage, expand online marketing and sales capabilities, invest in personal protective equipment and sanitizers, and purchase equipment necessary to provide outdoor dining.

Furthermore, for new businesses such as Papillon & Co., a housewares and accessories shop, and Biggby Coffee, a nationwide chain, as well as soon-to-open establishments such as Menya Ramen House, the support provided by MDA has all but confirmed their choice to open in Metuchen.

“With the help of Metuchen Downtown Alliance, we were able to weather significant difficulties that came with opening our restaurant,” Ryan Park, owner of Menya Ramen House, said in the statement. “From introducing us to key local business owners and residents to providing critical insights on navigating our anticipated opening, we could not have come this far without their help.

“Best of all, I am confident MDA will continually share its thoughts and experiences to make Menya a meaningful part of Downtown Metuchen for the long haul.”


Biggby Coffee, Metuchen
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