SOMERVILLE, NJ - Here's a unique dining experience that may come about as a result of Gov. Phil Murphy's announcement Monday that restaurants throughout the state can begin serving meals outdoors beginning June 15th.

By mid-summer, pending approvals, the borough's restaurants could be serving dinner al fresco on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights in the middle of a state highway.

Route 28 would be closed from the intersection of North & South Doughty Street east towards Grove Street from 5-8 p.m. each of those three nights according to a resolution passed by the Borough Council Monday night during its virtual meeting.

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The resolution reads:

WHEREAS, the State of Emergency issued as a result of the COVID-19 virus caused a hardship on many small businesses; and


 
WHEREAS, Somerville Borough has a Special Improvement District is managed by the Downtown Somerville Alliance, Inc.; and
 
WHEREAS, the Borough of Somerville in cooperation with the Downtown Somerville Alliance, Inc., seeks the approval to close W. Main Street from the intersection of N. Doughty & S. Doughty easterly to Grove Street, on Thursdays, Friday and Saturday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. for the purpose of promoting social distancing, while encouraging small business activity to be conducted within the closed areas; and
 
WHEREAS, the Borough of Somerville in cooperation with the Downtown Somerville Alliance will submit a detail plan upon preliminary approval of the request:


 
BE IT RESOLVED, by the Borough Council of the Borough of Somerville, in the County of Somerset, State of New Jersey requests that the State of New jersey Department of Transportation authorize the closure of Route 28 (W. Main Street) or portions thereof from the intersection of N. Doughty & S. Doughty easterly to the intersection of Grove Street, on Thursdays, Friday and Saturday 5 p.m.. – 8 p.m. for the purpose of promoting social distancing, while encouraging small business activity

The state Department of Transportation has to review all such requests.

The closure would encourage more visitors to come to the borough, increase pedestrian traffic and business in the downtown district, and most importantly create more space for tables and chairs while encouraging social distancing, according to Mayor Dennis Sullivan and Natalie Pineiro, executive director of the DSA.

Barriers would be erected and a detour would be put in place to direct traffic off of Main Street

Somerville's dining district has emerged the past few years as a top-flight destination for a four-star meal and designer drinks - Verve Restaurant, Bar & Bistro on East Main Street is the reigning "Best Bar in New Jersey" - but it has suffered a temporary setback because of the pandemic.

Restaurateurs and other business owners say they are ready to go.

Many of the restaurants have always served al fresco, but social distancing will place severe limitations on the number of tables that can be used safely, according to Mike Proske, owner of Project P.U.B. and Tapastre restaurants and Pat Mannion, owner of Mannion's Pub & Restaurant.

Shutting down the state highway to create a pedestrian mall filled with tables and chairs is the solution, according to the mayor and DSA executive director.

If the state Department of Transportation approves the closures, the DSA will implement a plan, with Borough Council approval. Details are still being worked on, according to Pineiro.

There is precedent for the state to agree to a temporary closure of Route 28.

Beginning in the spring, through the summer and fall into early winter, a variety of events necessitate the closure of the state highway - street fairs, firemen parades, the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade, the 3-day Tour of Somerville bicycle races and the Central New Jersey Jazz Festival.

The NJDOT has a permit process in place to review such requests.

Pineiro said other towns are considering similar plans to shut down streets and create outdoor dining districts.