METUCHEN – Sparkling lights will artfully illuminate the roof lines downtown from the Metuchen train bridge along Main Street to Middlesex Avenue in efforts to create an awe-inspiring and unforgettable holiday experience unlike any in the region during the pandemic.
“What’s really special is the concept of replacing the [annual Winter Festival] parade because we can’t have those types of gatherings that we want,” Mayor Jonathan Busch said, noting the annual parade, tree lighting and menorah lighting in previous years have brought more than 1,000 spectators to the events.
Busch said during a Borough Council meeting on Nov. 9 that borough officials have been working on the light event called Metuchen Lights for more than a month. He said the event will bring an attraction downtown where people can practice social distancing and spread out.
“There’s so many things we need to have happen during the holidays,” he said. “We need our businesses to thrive. Our downtown has to thrive for Metuchen to thrive. We have a real asset and have the ability to some degree to build this Christmas Town USA.”
Metuchen Lights, which will be funded by private donations, is a collaboration between the Metuchen Area Chamber of Commerce, the borough’s Parade Commission and the Metuchen Downtown Alliance.
Busch said the company that does the lights has experience lighting up malls, businesses and private homes throughout New Jersey.
The lights will shine from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day. The centerpiece of Metuchen Lights will be a version of a Winterfest the weekend of Dec. 11-13 with a number of street vendors.
“During those nights, retail stores and restaurants will open under the glow of thousands of lights while holiday music rings through the streets and people can shop, eat, stop by to see the Christmas tree and menorah and enjoy holiday treats in a safe and festive atmosphere,” Busch said.
In anticipation of more foot traffic in the borough during the holiday season, and the concerning uptick in new COVID-19 cases, the borough has installed free individually wrapped mask mailboxes and hand sanitizer stations in two downtown locations on Main Street, one in front of the Manasquan Bank drive-thru and one near Menya Ramen House. The stations are funded through the CARES Act.
The mailboxes and stations will be regularly restocked. Busch said he saw a similar set up during a visit to Bar Harbor, Maine.
“In a place like the downtown with people out supporting our businesses, we really want people to be wearing masks,” Busch said.
Councilman Todd Pagel said with the downtown crowded on a normal weekend, he asked if there were any plans in place to deal with a potential for large crowds to see the lights. Busch said a discussion may be warranted.
“Let’s see how things go early on,” he said. “It may lead to a discussion on what alternatives there are. The concept is giving people an opportunity to park in the downtown and be part of the experience. We have to balance that with potential of heavy foot traffic. If we find out it is so heavy, then we have to make a number of concessions.”
Busch said when more details are finalized they will release them to the public on the borough’s website and social media pages.
For more information, visit metuchennj.org.