New Jersey always has bragged about having the best main streets in the country. On Monday, Metuchen proved it.
Metuchen was one of three municipalities in the U.S. to be honored with the Great American Main Street Award at the 2023 Main Street Now Conference in Boston.
Metuchen is the third New Jersey municipality to win the award in its history (of 106 in total), joining Montclair and Westfield.
Isaac Kremer, who served as the executive director of the Metuchen Downtown Alliance from 2016-22, said the importance of the recognition cannot be overstated.
“This is the most prestigious award given to a downtown organization in the country,” he told ROI-NJ.
Kremer, who now works in a similar role in Princeton, was a huge part of the efforts that helped Metuchen earn the recognition.
Under Kremer’s direction, the Metuchen Downtown Alliance helped bring $170 million in development, including 387 apartments to the town. Those residents, Kremer said, help generate $5.5 million in spending.
“It really brought some new vitality into the heart of Metuchen,” he said.
But it was more than that, Kremer said.
“Our commitment to diversity, equity & inclusion, especially seen through the 120 retail promotions we did — including things like the Lunar New Year, the Juneteenth Celebration, the step dancing — really created this environment where everyone is welcome,” he said. “Metuchen has become a gathering place for the million people in the region. “
Kremer said winning the award on the first try — and winning it by unanimous consent, as he was told — was unique. But it also spoke to the teamwork behind the effort.
Kremer said the strong public-private partnership with the borough of Metuchen, which established the special improvement district in 2016, provided more than $2.5 million in funding — funding that was especially important during the pandemic.
More than anything, Kremer said, the award goes to the people of Metuchen — the volunteers who helped make this possible.
“Our annual report shows more than 25,000 hours of volunteer time — valued at more than $640,000 — went into this,” he said. “Without the volunteers, we would have had nothing.
“A lot of these programs around the country are very staff-driven; in Metuchen, it’s volunteer-led — it’s very grassroots.”
It’s all very Metuchen, he said.
“Metuchen really stands out as an exceptional community; we’ve always known that,” he said. “But getting this national recognition, which is a result of a lot of very hard work, was nice.”