“Metuchen Downtown Alliance’s ability to leverage the Main Street Approach to achieve such remarkable change in just seven years is astounding,” remarked Main Street America Interim President and CEO, Hannah White. “Their unwavering commitment to transparent organizational leadership, inclusive place activation, and ‘shop local’ community identity provides an inspiring model for success.”
With support from the Borough of Metuchen and extensive engagement with community members, Metuchen Downtown Alliance was formed in 2016 to address concerns related to the area’s high commercial vacancy rate, low business retention, and poor appearance. Equipped with support from local elected officials and residents, Main Street New Jersey, and the Main Street Approach, MDA’s leadership moved quickly to implement programs designed to make a meaningful and lasting impact.
Left: Terrace Plant Shop opened in Downtown Metuchen in 2021. Right: The Winter Market offers residents opportunities to "Shop Small" and local makers to reach customers in downtown Metuchen's Town Plaza. Credit: Lauren Beischer.
One of the alliance’s first activities—rallying businesses and residents in come downtown for Small Business Saturday—exceeded everyone’s expectations and sparked a culture of supporting local businesses. Today “Shop Small” has become a core part of the community’s identity and MDA serves a critical role in nurturing small business creation, preservation, and growth. To date, 60 businesses have benefited from façade, technology, and marketing grants, as well as increased engagement with families through the annual Kids Takeover event, where shops offer youth-oriented activities.
Left: Lunar New Year dragon dancers parade through downtown visiting visitors and delighting guests. Right: The annual Breakdancing on the Town Plaza event brings a diverse crowd and performers from New York City and New Jersey. Credit: Richard Alfonzo.
Notable accomplishments also include supporting new housing downtown and hosting inclusive activation activities through iterative placemaking projects, public art installations, and community events that reflect the rich and diverse identities of Metuchen’s residents. Since 2016, the downtown resident population has increased thanks to the addition of 387 new apartments. With more residents living downtown, patronage of local businesses has also increased to $5.5 million annually. Coupled with MDA’s small business assistance programs, 144 businesses—including 19 new restaurants, cafés, and bakeries—have opened and the vacancy rate has dropped from 22% to 4%.
Raul Ayala's mural, You Can Always Go Home Again (2022), celebrates themes of social justice, memory, immigration, and resistance in downtown Metuchen's Imagination Alley. Credit: Isaac Kremer.
“In a relatively short time, and with exceptional creativity and organization, Metuchen Downtown Alliance has become a leader not only in the New Jersey Main Street community but the national Main Street community as well,” remarked Gina Fischetti, State Coordinator at Main Street New Jersey. “Through the leadership of past Director Isaac Kramer and current Director Dawn Mackey, the dedication of countless volunteers and the hard work and guidance of past state coordinators, Metuchen is not only a wonderful place to visit, but a wonderful place to live as well. MSNJ is thrilled that Downtown Metuchen has been recognized for its hard work as a Great American Main Street Award winner!”
Left: Downtown Metuchen's Pride on the Plaza event recognizes members of their LGBTQ+ community. Right: A drumline musician celebrates with youth cheerleaders at Metuchen's annual Juneteenth Celebration in 2022. Credit: Richard Alfonzo
MDA’s commitment to strong organizational leadership takes shape through quarterly meetings, direct and transparent communication with stakeholders, and volunteer-led teams that design and administer events and programs. To date, MDA’s volunteers have contributed over 25,000 hours of service, valued at over $641,000.
Metuchen's Main Street bridge encourages residents and visitors to "Shop Small, Shop Local." Credit: Lauren Beischer.
“To achieve this recognition so quickly is truly awe inspiring,” says Dawn Mackey, Executive Director at Metuchen Downtown Alliance. “As an outsider with intimate insight into other small downtowns, I can confidently say that Metuchen is incredibly unique and the secret ingredient here is the community. When volunteers, the municipality, landlords, and businesses put their hearts into one mission, the results are pure magic. I could not be more proud of the work this team has done and am excited for this opportunity to introduce Metuchen, officially as a Great American Main Street. I can't wait to see what's next.”
Learn more about Metuchen Downtown Alliance >