SOMERVILLE, NJ - The Downtown Somerville Alliance, which represents the retailers in "Downtown Somerset County" is working to counteract the downside of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and its impact on businesses in the popular retail and restaurant district.

Retailers and restaurant owners took a substantial financial hit from cancellation of the 29th annual St. Patrick's Parade on Sunday, March 15th. In year's past, the parade has drawn as many as 20,000 spectators to the downtown area.

In an effort to encourage visitors, the borough has suspended parking fees on Lots 1,2,4 and 6 beginning March 14-April 15 and many restaurants are offering call-in ordering for take-out/curbside pickup or food delivery options.

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DSA Executive Director Natalie Pineiro sent out an email message to the central New Jersey community Friday, reassuring everyone that those who make a living in the downtown area are doing everything they can to ensure a safe shopping and dining experience.

The text of her message follows:

"As the coronavirus continues to make headlines both here and abroad, the Downtown Somerville Alliance would like to take a moment to express our deepest concerns for anyone who has been affected by COVID-19 in our area and beyond. We want you to know that we consider all of you a part of the Downtown Somerville family and as such we care about your health and safety above all else! 

"We are closely monitoring the effects of coronavirus on our community and with details rapidly emerging and changing we want you to know more about our response and how you can still support our business community. 

"As many of you know, the Somerville St. Patrick’s Day Parade was recently canceled. And while it saddens us that we will not enjoy one of our favorite staples of the season, we support the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade Committee in their endeavor to do their part to ensure the safety of our community. 

"More importantly, we want to reiterate that we are still open for business. In the midst of the chaos, we appreciate all those who have asked how they can support our small businesses during these difficult times. 

"Our retailers are dedicated to keeping their stores stocked and their prices fair. Cleanliness is of top priority in our district and our businesses are going the extra mile to welcome you into spaces that are clean, disinfected and regularly sanitized.

"And if you’re weary about prolonged time spent outside of your home you can rest assured that many of our restaurants offer call-in ordering for take-out/curbside pickup or food delivery options; our retail businesses have presences online and gift cards are available for purchase should you need to reschedule a special occasion, need a gift, or - just because.

"In addition, free parking has been made available in lots 1, 2, 4, and 6 (see parking map at www.downtownsomerville.com/visit/#parking) from March 14th - April 15th for your convenience. 

"We are closely following the safety and prevention protocols offered by the Centers for Disease Control, and will continue to monitor the circumstances and changing developments and will pivot where necessary to ensure the safety of those who live, work and play in Downtown Somerville."

"We are keeping everyone's safety in mind, that's our top priority, and we want to encourage people to visit downtown Somerville," Pineiro said. "We're still here to provide great service and great dining experiences like we would any other day," she added.

Though cancellation of the St. Patrick's Parade will continue to be felt by small business owners going forward, Pineiro said it was the right thing to do.

"The Saint Patrick's parade is a really big day for us and a lot of businesses count on it, but it's better to be safe than sorry," she said.

Had someone in the crowd, or someone marching in the parade tested positive for COVID-19, there would have been a "terrible backlash," Pineiro said.

"We're not just protecting the public, we're protecting our businesses as well," she said.

"Hopefully, we'll get through this in the next couple of weeks, and the parade can be rescheduled," she said.

Meanwhile, Pineiro is moving ahead, with a busy schedule of DSA promotions over the next several months into the summer, the biggest of which is the annual "Girls Night Out" May 14th.

The DSA will continue to post updates on behalf of its merchants on a weekly basis, according to Pineiro.

"For additional information on coronavirus in Somerset County visit https://www.co.somerset.nj.us/government/public-health-safety/health-department/services/disease-prevention/novel-coronavirus-2019-2641."