RARITAN, NJ - The Raritan governing body took a cautious step forward in its effort to aid local businesses and bring the community together.

At its June 23 meeting, the council voted 6-0 to authorize up to $2,000 for a purchase order to rent tents, tables, chairs and lighting for an outdoor gathering spot.

The initial plan was for a dedicated area open daily, but concerns about maintenance, cleanup and sanitizing narrowed the concept to a once weekly event.

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Mayor Zachary Bray came up with the once-a-week idea because it was more manageable than an everyday undertaking.

“Instead of having it set up all the time,” he said, “what if we did something like Thursday Night in Raritan?”

Bray went on to outline his vision.  

Since it would be a once-a-week occurrence, he suggested hiring an entertainer, possibly an acoustic musician. The area would be set up on Thursday morning, weather permitting, and taken down on Friday morning.  

Bray noted that it would involve a little overtime for a public works employee.

“It’s something to provide the community with something we don’t have now, something to do,” he said.

Realistically allowing for everything to come together, the Thursday gatherings would begin on July 16 and run for about seven or eight weeks until Sept. 3.

Council President Nicolas Carra offered his support.

“I think that’s a good idea,” he said. “With the music, it would be like a mini Festa, which isn’t happening this year. And one day a week is much more do-able.”

Expanding on the idea, Councilman Michael Patente suggested “all kinds of special events,” such as demonstrations, tastings and activities could be arranged highlighting local retailers.

He also noted that Thursday is good because it’s not a night when a lot of events in other towns are planned.

Councilwoman Joyce Melitsky was enthusiastic about the once weekly event.

“I think by having it one night a week, we’ll get a nice group of people to attend,” she said. “I look forward to it.”

At the June 9 meeting, Councilman Paul Giraldi had suggested getting resident feedback on the idea prior to moving forward. In response, Christine Torres, a member of the borough’s Economic Development Committee, put the plan up on Facebook.

Bray said 4,000 people engaged with her post.

“There were mostly positive comments,” he said, “thinking it was a great idea, but with the same concerns that we had about maintaining, cleaning and sanitizing the area.”

And, according to Torres, borough businesses are “very, very excited about the potential of having a community dining area. It would be welcomed.”

Everyone seemed to be onboard until Councilman Pablo Orozco questioned whether restrooms would have to be provided.

“I’m all for outdoor dining,” he said. “I want to get this done, but that was a concern a few minutes ago when we were discussing the pool.”

The mayor said he didn’t know if the town would be required to provide restroom facilities, and, if so, he wouldn’t be comfortable going forward.

The question was thrown over to borough attorney Bill Robertson, who said he would have to check with the county health department.

Borough engineer Stan Shrek suggested raising the budgeted amount a bit so that portable johns could be rented if necessary.  However, Bray said that the continual cleaning and sanitizing that would be needed made that option impossible.

In the end, the council voted to move forward with a plan that could be derailed pending an answer about restroom facilities.

If it goes forward, Thursday Night in Raritan would be setup under a lighted tent with 19 tables.  

The layout was provided by Shrek and his associate, Shelly McGregor. They offered a mock-up of a design with eight tables for seating of four to six people, and 11 tables for two.

“There would be a 3-foot radius around each table,” McGregor said, “so 6 feet distancing wouldn’t be a problem.”

The discussion about possible uses for a municipal-owned parking lot began at an earlier meeting based on an idea from Police Chief Raymond Nolte.