SOMERVILLE, NJ – The borough’s official Christmas tree has been disassembled and stored away until December, signaling a temporary end to the festivities that took over the Division Street pedestrian mall during a banner year for visitors, shoppers and merchants.
Conceived as the borough’s cultural center and showcase during the administration of former Mayor Brian Gallagher the pedestrian mall is a kaleidoscope of event-driven attractions including art shows, craft fairs, festivals, movie nights, concerts, live Shakespeare and other events - a perfect venue for Natalie Pineiro, executive director of the non-profit Downtown Somerville Alliance.
Welcome to Natalie's World - from a Latina festival and Girl’s Night Out to an Oktoberfest celebration complete with beer garden, a Halloween costume Spooktacular and Holiday Jubilee – and more recently, the establishment of an Igloo Village – the popularity of Division Street helps to accentuate the re-emergence of Somerville as Somerset County's Downtown.
Pineiro, who celebrates her first year on the job this month, is responsible for the eclectic series of attractions on Division Street, just one of her many responsibilities.
Her efforts on behalf of the retail and restaurant owners in the downtown district have made a huge impact on the local economy, with local residents and visitors from throughout New Jersey and beyond drawn to the bustling Main Street district.
Looking back on her first year as executive director of the Downtown Somerville Alliance, Pineiro considers her efforts to reconnect with downtown merchants and to create more signature events as some of her more notable accomplishments.
She's also pleased that several infrastructure projects, including tree plantings and sidewalk repairs have been accomplished.
Looking ahead, she expects to continue the live events, the “Shop Small” promotions, outreach to merchants, extensive promotions online and a rebranding of the DSA logo.
More importantly, there will be a sharper focus on "walkability' and an effort to enhance the borough's residential real estate market by selling the value of the so-called DSA downtown community within the greater community.
"People want to live closer to walkable downtowns," Pineiro said.
Increasingly, people want to live in a town that offers convenience close to home - stores, restaurants, entertainment, services and opportunities according to Pineiro.
"One of the things a lot of downtowns have to get away from is renting space for the sake of renting space," Pineiro said. "There has to be a vision and targeted effort to go after the type of businesses you want downtown," she added,
"Part of the journey is to focus on more recruitment, retention and filling longstanding vacancies and to support the businesses that we have," she said.
"Connecting with the business owners, building relationships so that they know there will always be someone they can count on, to be their advocate and to continue to work to bring unique, relevant things to the downtown that will continue to help them grow and thrive is truly what matters," Pineiro said,
"I remember meeting a lot of the business owners when I started last January and many of them didn't even know what the DSA did to benefit them," she said,
They do now.
"Were definitely turning the tide; they can see the value the DSA can bring to their business and downtown Somerville," she added.