Could South Orange’s retail scene be turning the corner?
After nearly five years of work, the South Orange Village Center Alliance is seeing the acceleration of progress in attracting investment in the Village Center. Five new businesses opened in 2016 and two more are already signed for 2017 and slated to be announced or opened in the first quarter. Others are in talks.
The five new businesses from 2016 — Yoni Kreger Salon, BGR The Burger Joint, Gallery OVO, Pet Wants and Noodlefan — will soon be joined by Mod Studio, a kids and teens clothing store where clothing can be customized at a design bar, and an arts supply store.
While details aren’t available yet on the arts supply store, local resident Anna Rulnick, the owner of Mod Studio has announced her business on social media. Rulnick told the Village Green that construction is underway at 15 Village Plaza — just two doors down from Sparkhouse Toys. She soon will announce an opening date.
Another local resident has posted on social media about his interest in opening a restaurant but declined to go on the record until he has signed a lease.
In addition, new developments in South Orange will soon bring a restaurant and beer garden to Village Hall (prospective opening dates in 2018) and potential new retailers or restaurants to Third & Valley, Fourth & Valley and the Lustbader-owned properties including the former Blockbuster space and other buildings near South Orange Avenue and Vose Avenue. Other developments are also in discussion.
On Jan. 9, the leaders of the South Orange Village Center Alliance reviewed the organization’s accomplishments and challenges from 2016 and discussed new initiatives for 2017 before the South Orange Village Board of Trustees.
SOVCA Director Bob Zuckerman noted that the organization is nearing its five year renewal date. (More information on that process will be available in the coming months.) Since 2012, the Village Alliance has been funded largely through an assessment on commercial properties in the Village Center plus a large contribution by the Township (for the proposed $330,000 2017 budget, $150,000 will come from the Township).
The organization’s two paid staffers (Zuckerman and Melissa Hodge) and volunteer board members produce events, advocate on behalf of the business community, perform business recruitment, oversee cleaning and beautification projects and services, and perform marketing in an effort to make South Orange Village Center a more vibrant downtown.
Clear winners for the organization are events.
SOVCA has seen programming like PlayDay attract more sponsors and attendees year over year, while generating a sense of excitement and community in the the Village Center.
Zuckerman noted that the third annual PlayDay was “bigger and better than ever, adding zip line and garnering more sponsors than ever before.” He reported that the event attracted approximately 4,000 attendees this past September — the biggest crowd in its 3 year history — despite being held on a rain date.
Other events like Downtown after Sundown, the Farmers Market, Halloween at Spiotta Park, the Pop ‘n’ Shop, Small Business Saturday and Hometown Holiday continued to morph and grow, while Zuckerman and crew continued to pilot new programs such as the wildly successful Food Stroll and creating a pedestrian space at Village Plaza on weekend nights in summers and filling it with visitors and musicians. Zuckerman said that SOVCA was also considering televising Seton Hall basketball games on a large outdoor screen in the Village Center should the Pirates make it to the 2017 March Madness (NCAA Basketball) Tournament.
“We would love a party downtown with a big screen and have a watching party,” said Zuckerman, who noted the effort dovetailed nicely with Village President Sheena Collum’s work to better integrate the university into the life of the Village.
But Zuckerman pointed out that other, less visible initiatives were paving the way for new businesses, including work on scrubbing the code, the Development Committee, a new Design Review Committee and marketing efforts including advertising and the Village Vibe email newsletter, which reaches about 2,000 subscribers weekly.
SOVCA Chair Matt Glass then told the Board of Trustees that the organization will be pushing marketing more than ever in 2017 with a new campaign to brand South Orange Village Center as the “Live Music Capital of NJ,” which will include music events, a calendar and an app.
“It’s already here, we don’t have to make it up,” said Glass.
The other marketing campaign will seek to market South Orange Center’s diversity — “where everyone feels welcome.”
The campaign, called “Everyone Belongs Here,” will include street pole banners and more. “No matter what you look like, no matter who you love, you should come to South Orange,” said Glass.
Meanwhile — and in concert with the overall marketing — business recruitment will continue to be a major focus.
“I want to see a lot more ribbon cuttings this year,” Zuckerman told the Board of Trustees. “That’s my goal.”
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