SOVCA Is Now South Orange Downtown and Melissa Hodge Is Promoted to Executive Director 

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From South Orange Downtown

The South Orange Village Center Alliance (SOVCA) announced a new name — South Orange Downtown — and a major rebrand for the non-profit organization dedicated to making the downtown business district a vibrant place to live, work, and enjoy. The organization also announced that Melissa Hodge, who has been leading the organization since February, has been promoted to Executive Director, and Lisa Szulewski joins the team as Events & Marketing Coordinator.  

“For years we have been referring to our business district as a downtown, as it better describes our urban, transit-oriented center,” said South Orange Downtown Board Chair Deborah Engel. “With our organization entering a new chapter under Melissa’s leadership and with South Orange Village completing their own rebrand recently, we felt this was the right time to update and refresh our downtown business district’s look and name as well.” 

The South Orange Downtown rebrand includes a new logo and website — — and will focus on highlighting the downtown district as a destination to local South Orange and Maplewood residents, as well as neighboring towns.  

“This rebrand reflects the growth of the organization and showcases the vibrancy and complexity of the district,” said Melissa Hodge, Executive Director of South Orange Downtown. “South Orange Downtown connects people, fuses the new with the old and blends cultures. The new brand embodies the South Orange Downtown Experience and we are excited to showcase this new direction.” 

The South Orange Downtown identity was developed by the independent brand experience design company DePaolis Design. Founder and creative director Diane DePaolis led several charrettes with board members and community stakeholders to align on the strategy. This resulted in DePaolis Design creating an impactful new dynamic identity for the downtown district. Dani Geraci, a local marketing and branding consultant, developed the new website, which highlights downtown businesses, upcoming events and local news updates. The website will make it easy for residents and visitors to shop, dine, and experience South Orange.  

Melissa Hodge was named Acting Executive Director in February, after Julie Doran left the  organization to become Deputy Township Administrator, and has been with the organization for seven years. Lisa Szulewski joined the organization in June, in the newly created position of Events & Marketing Coordinator, to round out the team. Lisa brings a strong event and television production background as well as a passion for helping small businesses. With the support of the board, Melissa and Lisa will spearhead this new brand and work closely with the local businesses to make sure  visitors, residents and the SHU community have a memorable South Orange Downtown experience.  

Melissa Hodge. Photo by Jamie Bloom Meier.

Lisa Szulewski

About South Orange Downtown 

Originally founded in 1991 as a Main Street Organization, South Orange Downtown is a 501(c)3 non profit dedicated to making the downtown business district a vibrant place to live, work, and enjoy through events, beautification and advocacy for the downtown businesses. South Orange Downtown is the longest-operating Main Street Community in New Jersey. The organization’s mission is to strengthen the vitality of the downtown business district by supporting existing businesses and attracting new ones to improve the Village’s retail mix; raising funds for improvement and public art projects; producing events that complement existing stores and services; maintaining a clean, safe, and pedestrian-friendly downtown; and helping the governing body manage new development while preserving the attractive architectural legacy of the downtown area. The organization is run by an Executive Director and a volunteer board of directors made up of property owners, business owners, residents and other stakeholders. The organization produces key downtown events, including the Under Cover Music Fest, Summer Saturdays, Farmers Market, Hometown Holiday, and more. For more information, visit

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