With the popularity of online shopping continuing to grow during the holiday season and throughout the year, efforts are being ramped up to revitalize downtown areas in communities across the Garden State.

According to Courtenay Mercer, the executive director of Downtown New Jersey, in order for downtowns to really flourish, being flexible and easy to work with is one important key.

“Some municipalities require you to jump through a whole bunch of hoops just to open your business and if there’s a town two towns down the road that doesn’t require you to jump through hoops, they’re going to go there," she said.

She noted some towns have business liaisons that help new businesses successfully navigate the opening process.

Bordentown, NJ Courtesy Google Maps
Bordentown, NJ Courtesy Google Maps

Make it look appealing

Mercer said another important element is “making the downtown attractive in general, if you have a successful hospitality economy then the retail will follow.”

So if you want to draw people to a downtown area she pointed out “it’s making it more pedestrian friendly, making it more aesthetically appealing, adding arts and culture.”

“We definitely see that if you welcome public art, a diverse public art that represents the community at large, it welcomes not only the community but visitors to your downtown.”

What kind of art?

She noted this can include murals, statues and all other types of performing and visual arts.

As an example of this, she said, while a museum may feature an exhibit of African arts, a municipality can concurrently feature a musical festival with jazz or the blues in the park or out in the street.

“It’s those very strategic intentional partnerships, where the businesses know that it’s happening and they might offer specials, you know come to the show and then come have dinner,” she said.

Princeton, NJ Courtesy Google Maps
Princeton, NJ Courtesy Google Maps

Mercer said while it’s very important to make downtown areas inviting, it’s also necessary for small businesses to have an online presence.

Show off your product

She said even if you don’t sell your products online, you should be “showing off your product, showing off your store, telling stories about your store, about the owners, about your customers.”

She said what all this means is you want “a good mix of restaurants, a good mix of shops, and then adding that arts and culture aspect to draw people to your downtown.”

“Malls are dying, the downtowns are thriving,” said Mercer, “particularly the ones that have type of organized management, organization involved.”

Downtown New Jersey is a non-profit membership organization of individuals, businesses, developers, government agencies, and local and regional entities that are passionate about downtowns. DNJ provides advocacy, education, and technical assistance resources dedicated to ensuring the vitality of our downtowns. For more information, visit downtownnj.com.

David Matthau is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at david.matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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