Deborah Engel Named Chair of South Orange Village Center Alliance as Mark Murphy Finishes Term

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From the South Orange Village Center Alliance:

The South Orange Village Center Alliance (SOVCA), the non-profit organization that manages South Orange’s downtown special improvement district, unanimously elected its first female chair on Wednesday, December 16, 2020. Deborah Engel will assume the position from Mark Murphy, who has served as chair since June 2019.

“It has been a great privilege to be a part of the SOVCA board for the last three plus years, with the last two years on SOVCA’s executive committee as vice-chair and then chair,” said outgoing chair Murphy. “As I make this transition I couldn’t be prouder of SOVCA and the direction that the organization is headed looking to 2021. The board is a very committed group of intelligent, accomplished, compassionate and highly engaged professionals with diverse backgrounds and skill sets. Whether it was beautification, place-making, events or helping our South Orange small business community try to manage the treacherous waters of 2020 the organization’s work was and remains extremely vital and I feel makes a significant difference to our SOMA community. I can’t think of anyone more able to continue those efforts than Deb Engel. Thanks to the SOVCA board past and present for letting me be a part of the narrative and the mission.”

Engel, who has been a SOVCA Board member and communications chair since 2017 and on the executive committee since 2018, is a marketing and communications professional and small business owner. “Deb’s background makes her well suited to support our businesses and lead the organization as we move into 2021 and the challenges we face,” said Julie Doran, Executive Director of SOVCA.

[Editor’s note: Engel recently ran for a seat on the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education, coming in fourth out of five candidates. The top three candidates won seats on the Board.]

“As chair, I will continue to advocate for and support our local businesses as we navigate these uncertain times, and as we transition into a post-vaccine world,” said Engel. “As a business owner myself [Engel owned Work and Play in South Orange and is co-founder of General Store Cooperative in Maplewood], I understand the heartache and hardship we are all enduring. Working with Julie, Melissa [Hodge], and the board, I will continue to think creatively about downtown promotions, activations, and fundraising to support our businesses and programs such as our new digital marketing grant program. I’m fortunate to be able to build on the foundation of Mark’s leadership, and while I will miss serving with him, I look forward to his continued contribution to our vibrant downtown community.”

Along with Engel’s appointment, the board elected the following officers to the SOVCA executive committee: Cat Fisher, owner of Sadies and Kitchen a la Mode, as vice chair; Michael Maza a South Orange resident, as secretary; Amelia Cruz-Holder, a business district property owner, as treasurer; and trustee Steven Schnall, who will continue his role as the Board of Trustees liaison to SOVCA.

Claudine Baptiste of BCB Bank joins Cruz-Holder as SOVCA’s newest members of the Board of Directors. With Murphy’s departure, there is one open board seat for a South Orange business owner. Interested business owners are encouraged to apply and should submit their resume with a letter of interest to Julie Doran,

About South Orange Village Center Alliance

The South Orange Village Center Alliance (SOVCA) is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to making downtown South Orange a vibrant place to live, work and enjoy through events, beautification and advocacy for the downtown business district. SOVCA’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 our 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. For more information, visit

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