RARITAN, NJ - If you were anticipating the tent, tables and lights going up and the music to begin playing for the weekly “Thursday Night in Raritan,” the news is not good.
As plans were made and a starting date targeted, residents and business owners were excited about the prospect of a weekly community event designed to bring residents together and support local retailers while maintaining social distancing.
Mayor Zachary Bray and the borough council initiated the idea, set a budget and even had a floor plan laid out to keep people together, yet safely apart.
At the June 23 meeting, the council voted 6-0 to authorize up to $2,000 for the equipment needed to create the outdoor gathering spot in the municipal owned parking lot on Thompson Street.
What began as a way to aid eateries without sufficient outdoor space with seating for more customers quickly evolved into a showcase for a variety of retailers to demo products and maybe do wine or beer tastings adding to the excitement.
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 that would begin in July and run at least into September.
Bray came up with the once-a-week idea because it was more manageable then 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. It would include a lighted tent and 19 tables set up at a safe distance.
Bray noted that it would involve a little overtime for a Public Works employee.
“It’s a way to provide the community with something we don’t have now, something to do,” he said.
Then COVID-19 reared its ugly head again, and not only slammed on the brakes, but crashed the whole idea.
At the June meeting, the question about whether restroom facilities would need to be provided was raised. At the time, the council had voted not to open the municipal pool for many reasons, but one significant concern was monitoring and continually cleaning the restrooms.
So when the possibility of having to put up portable restrooms for the weekly event was mentioned, it was a game-changer for Bray.
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 when we were discussing the pool.”
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 – and that’s just what happened.
The mayor explained that based on input from the borough attorney and the county Health Department, the town would be required to provide restrooms and have a sanitation plan in place.
“I’m just not comfortable with the current state of affairs to go forward with that,” he said, “so the idea for now unfortunately looks like it’s dead.”