NEWARK, NJ —  On a typical weekday, the yellow-clad Ambassadors of the Newark Downtown District (NDD) would be busy sweeping streets, watering plants, and disposing of trash, surrounded by the bustle of the city.

But since the middle of March – and the outbreak of COVID-19 – their daily work plan has changed drastically. Gone are the thousands of daily workers, students, and shoppers who would fill the 110 city blocks in the downtown district.

What remain are about 40 “essential” businesses, which are managing to keep their doors open to serve a sparse number of shoppers who are still venturing downtown for groceries, banking, take-out food, and other common necessities in this “new normal”.

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So, rather than serving the masses, the Ambassadors must focus their work on ensuring the downtown streets are as sterile as possible. Over the past few weeks, the NDD Ambassadors have been spending their days disinfecting every light pole, every trashcan, and every park bench, visiting the same streets over and over throughout the course of the work day.

The NDD handles sanitation tasks in the downtown, which equates to 1.65 million pounds of trash a year, allowing the public works department to focus on residential areas at the edges of the Central Ward and in neighborhoods throughout Newark.

“Our job right now is to ensure the downtown is as clean as absolutely possible,” explained Anthony McMillan, CEO of the NDD. “With our Ambassadors working so hard to keep the pedestrian touchpoints sterilized, it feels good to know visitors and downtown employees can feel comfortable when they come to visit the reduced number of businesses that remain open. Even though Downtown Newark isn’t as vibrant as usual, it is clean and safe and welcoming, with many businesses offering take-out service.” 

To that end, the NDD has kept on its full-time staff of 40 Ambassadors, curbing contamination wherever possible among 4,905 public fixtures within the downtown district. That includes special attention to any common touchpoints, from the pedestrian buttons on traffic control signals, to bus shelters, to newspaper boxes, to the 250 trash bins that line the large district stretching from City Hall north to the Broad Street train station.

The majority of Ambassadors are Newark residents, and they are still working eight hours a day except for Mondays. That is when Newark Mayor Ras Baraka requested that every business shut down, affecting all 10,000 businesses and over 145,000 employees in the city. Beginning April 13, the mayor’s “Be Still Mondays” campaign was enacted, with only emergency responders invited to traverse the city.

“While we all continue to adjust to these changing times, it is important that the community at-large recognize that our Ambassadors have not stopped working,” McMillan said. “We remain as dedicated as ever to maintaining a safe, attractive downtown. We will all be together soon and I promise our downtown district will be waiting, as beautiful as ever.”