Downtown NJ recognizes Cranford initiatives in placemaking contest

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CRANFORD, NJ — Downtown New Jersey recently celebrated downtowns and downtown businesses across the state for their placemaking projects with awards. While many downtowns and businesses are struggling right now due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, these award winners have taken innovative steps to keep their areas surviving and thriving.

Nominations were accepted in two categories: early action and winning winter. Nominee categories also acknowledged the varying capacity of downtown districts, from all-volunteer–led groups to business improvement districts with more significant staff and budgetary resources.

“This is the first ever Downtown New Jersey Placemaking Awards. In a normal year, we would gather in person to celebrate projects, programs and leaders at the Downtown Excellence Awards,” DNJ Executive Director Courtenay Mercer said in a press release. “Since we could not do a larger program this year, we wanted to recognize excellent placemaking projects and initiatives helping small businesses cope with the economic strain of COVID-19.”

Joining Downtown New Jersey in recognizing excellence in placemaking was AARP New Jersey, which sponsored the event.

Cranford Theater won the Early Action/Merchant Award. In a collaboration with Cranford Theater, Downtown Cranford coordinated a golden ticket giveaway as a tie-in with the drive-in showing of “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” For the chance to win a golden ticket, people just needed to shop or dine at participating locations on designated days. The business owners were given golden tickets and were responsible for choosing winners. Pictures of the winners were also shared on social media, to help promote the event and to encourage people to continue to support downtown businesses for a chance to win.

Additionally, Downtown Cranford won honorable mention in the Winning Winter/Small Organization category for its “Scarecrow Stroll” and holiday singers initiatives, which added to the festive feel of downtown.

“The Scarecrow Stroll was created to draw people to walk throughout Downtown Cranford to enjoy the very creative scarecrows and see our businesses,” Cranford Mayor Kathleen Miller Prunty told Union County LocalSource on Feb. 1. “Often, people go to their favorites spots and miss shops, restaurants and businesses on other streets. The scarecrows are intentionally placed on every street so people have to stroll the entire downtown to see the display. The Downtown Management Office organizes the event that brings people from many towns but it really is the residents, business owners, schools, clubs and civic organizations that are responsible for the amazing annual display. It really is a public and private partnership.”

This was the 13th year of the Downtown Cranford Scarecrow Stroll, and a real effort was made to add in other activities that people could do outside or in their own homes. The main event is the Scarecrow Stroll, with more than 100 scarecrows created by families, organizations, businesses and schools lining the streets of downtown. People are encouraged to walk around and vote for their favorites. In the spirit of encouraging people to walk around and explore downtown, the Downtown Management Office also worked with the Cranford Public Library on a story walk, which placed pages from a fall-themed book in store windows.

The office also put together a Halloween scavenger hunt, where people could find Halloween icons in store windows and email their completed forms for the chance to win a gift card. A local bakery sold cupcake kits, which was promoted by the Downtown Cranford office, where children could create Halloween-themed desserts for the chance to win a prize. Additional partnerships included offering people a free cup of cider at the local coffee shop in exchange for a donation to Cranford Family Care, a virtual pet costume contest with prizes from local pet businesses and an outdoor pumpkin patch with painting kits from the local pottery studio.

“Such a great event! It really enriches our town spirit,” resident Sue Baranowski O’Keefe said about the event.

“All the scarecrows were amazing this year,” resident Patricia Pavlak shared. “What a great diversion in a very stressful year.”

My girls had so much fun picking out their pumpkins,” resident Kelli Farrell said. “Thanks again for an amazing event, Downtown Cranford!”

Photos Courtesy of Downtown Cranford