SOUTH ORANGE/MAPLEWOOD, NJ — South Orange and Maplewood each were recognized for achievements in placemaking in their downtowns during the pandemic. Downtown New Jersey (DNJ) gave their first-ever awards to celebrate placemaking projects and initiatives intended to help New Jersey small businesses and downtowns survive and thrive during the shutdown and capacity limitations associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. The awards were presented at a virtual ceremony during the New Jersey Downtown Conference last month.

Nominations were accepted in two categories — early action and winning winter. Nominee categories also acknowledged the varying capacity of downtown districts, from all-volunteer led groups to business improvement districts with more significant staff and budgetary resources. 

The South Orange restaurant The Fox and theFalcon earned an honorable mention in the early action/merchant category for creating an attractive and engaging outdoor space that spurred more restaurants to follow suit in what became known as South Orange’s “Restaurant Row.”

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At the last South Orange Board of Trustees meeting, Trustee Steven Schnall praised The Fox and Falcon. He noted the outdoor dining has “beautiful warming stations, all done in an attractive and socially distant outdoor setting that was safe.”

The South Orange Village Center Alliance (SOVCA) received first place for the winning winter small organization category for the South Orange Open Air Holiday Market during the 2020 holiday shopping season. “Set in the central downtown parking lot the market was surrounded by restaurants offering seasonal beverages and food options,” said the award description. “The market provided the community with great gift shopping while offering an outdoor, socially distanced holiday shopping experience. The market featured between 20 and 35 rotating vendors, a weekly surprise gift including hand warmers, Hanukkah gelt, candy canes, holiday cookies, and shopping bags.”

Live music was included at every market and seasonal décor set the stage. Julie Doran, SOVCA’s executive director said, “Holding the market during evening hours allowed us to transform the parking lot into a winter wonderland of sorts, offering a festive and inviting atmosphere that was as much an attraction as it was a place for holiday shopping.” 

“It was great in this terrible pandemic,” said Schnall. Being in quarantine and not seeing friends and neighbors was difficult and “we missed each other,” he noted. The weekly market “was an opportunity at least to get out there and be somewhat community oriented.

Trustee Bob Zuckerman, currently president of Downtown New Jersey, praised the winners while laughing that “I was not on the selection committee. I had nothing to do with South Orange winning those fabulous awards.”

Maplewood's SpringfieldAvenue Partnership earned an honorable mention in the same category, winning winter, for its Open-Air Market, which activated a vacant lot with an outdoor shopping experience that included area makers and crafters, and local musicians.

Downtown New Jersey is a non-profit membership organization which provides advocacy, education, and technical assistance resources dedicated to ensuring the vitality of New Jersey downtowns. AARP New Jersey sponsored the event. 


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