SUMMIT, NJ — Summit Downtown Inc. Executive Director Nancy Adams highlighted the organization’s accomplishments for 2020 in a presentation at the Summit Common Council meeting on Tuesday, April 6. SDI manages the downtown district by creating events that foster a hometown feel, although Adams said the COVID-19 pandemic created many challenges to hurdle last year.
“Summit Downtown, like everyone else, had a really different year in 2020,” said Adams on Tuesday, April 6. “Summit Downtown’s board and staff, we pivoted and rose to the challenge and worked hand in hand with the city of Summit to try to make changes, as everyone did.”
Normally, SDI’s mission is to manage the downtown district and work to help those businesses and do business recruitment, she said, including creating events, marketing to bring people to town and creating a hometown atmosphere to make it a destination. This year, however, SDI spent the budget funds on different initiatives. It also worked with elected officials, department heads, residents and Summit police, all to move the city forward during the difficult time.
“SDI worked with city of Summit’s elected officials and department heads to do what had to be done to help the businesses by quickly creating and approving seven new ‘parklets’ to allow for more outdoor dining,” Adams said. “We worked together with the city to expand the outdoor dining, so now it is permitted for a full year instead of seasonal. We also worked together to close Maple Street, to allow those logistics and work with the restaurants over there who didn’t really have on-street parking to expand parklets into, so this became something that the city and SDI worked on and has been very positively received by the community. This really helped to help these restaurants and allow them the opportunity to pay rent and employ people.
“We also worked with Summit police on the Wear a Mask Downtown program,” she continued. “SDI donated $5 and $10 Summit VISA gift cards for police to give out as positive incentives to kids who were wearing masks downtown, in the hopes that more people will wear masks downtown. We’ve partnered with the city, and the mayor, in particular, was instrumental in this, and the Summit Foundation and the Sustain Summit Grant Program. We worked together to raise over $350,000 to give grants to small business owners citywide. Matched by a generous Summit couple, who wanted to give back to the city and to the businesses, we gave another round of larger grants in the Jumpstart Summit program as well. This was a huge help to the businesses, not only for their financial well-being, but for their morale during such a devastating time.”
SDI gave many grants to businesses that were in need during the holiday season. Adams said SDI had applied for and received a $120,000 grant from the state Main Street program, which was funded by the CARES Fund.
“That enabled us … to give $1,000 grants across the board to all those small businesses who had applied for the other Sustain Summit grants,” she said. “So that was another boost, and it happened to come in December, which was really helpful for them to be able to buy stock and merchandise for their stores during the holidays.
“Two times last year, SDI sent $100 Summit VISA gift cards, so that the downtown businesses could either spend them at their own business or, better yet, support their fellow downtown businesses by spending it there. It was another big morale booster.”
Adams said SDI has also done a great deal of communicating to businesses and customers through emails, e-newsletters and social media, updating them regularly on the ever-changing state, county and city rules concerning closures and occupancy levels, as well as on grants available to businesses. There was also constant promotion through SDI’s social media.
During the height of the pandemic, Adams said SDI purchased 1,000 reusable shopping bags that were given away to shoppers visiting the Summit’s Farmers Market, so people could continue their green initiatives and get their groceries using these bags and limiting contact with vendors.
“Luckily, it was declared as an essential business. This not only helped the almost 40 vendors that we typically have at the Farmers Market, but it brought a sense of normalcy to the community and enabled the residents, in and outside of Summit, to get fresh produce and all the wonderful offerings of the market,” Adams said. “We worked with parking services and city officials to make these important changes, in order to open the market. It moved from Deforest Park and Lot No. 2 to the larger No. 1 lot at the corner of Maple and Woodland.
“This enabled us to spread out the vendors so that shoppers could follow social distancing guidelines. DPW installed snow fencing around the lot, so we can control the entrance and exit of patrons,” she continued. “We also had a staff person that we hired to put at the entry, to make sure people were wearing masks when they came in and limit the attendance in the lot at one time. The Farmers Market had less attendance than usual, but still between 2,000 and 3,000 people attended every week. It probably started to grow toward the end of the season, as people began to feel more comfortable. Customers and vendors alike were very grateful that we were able to safely run the market in 2020.”
Due to the success the Summit Farmers Market found by using Lot No. 1, the city has approved SDI to move it there permanently, which will allow for COVID-19 restrictions and the addition of even more vendors.
“This past year, there were personnel changes at SDI,” SDI board member Claire Toth said on Tuesday, April 6. “But just watching everyone pivot and jump in —not only do what had to be done, but just come up with more and more creative ideas to help the businesses, to engage the community and to make as much lemonade out of the lemons we were handed as possible — has been amazing.”
“Thank you so much to SDI for everything you’ve done in the past year and a few months,” Council President Marjorie Fox said on Tuesday, April 6. “The partnership with you guys has been great, and I’ve been so pleased at the way SDI has pivoted and thought outside the box. Particularly with Sustain Summit and the Jumpstart fund, you were working with not just downtown businesses but with businesses throughout Summit, which isn’t usually what you handle, and we appreciate that you were willing to help with businesses outside of the downtown as well, because we care so much about our community and neighborhood businesses.
“Your flexibility and willingness to think about new ideas and work together was so valuable, and we’re so glad that we’ve built this relationship with you. We’ll continue to work together to help the businesses and to help Summit residents enjoy our businesses and our downtown,” she added.