Inland towns try to attract visitors

Eric Sucar

By MICHAEL NUNES
Staff Writer

Now that the summer season is fast approaching, New Jersey towns that do not have the benefit of beachfront property must be creative in order to attract visitors and tourists.

Red Bank is one community that has prepared a game plan.

“We cannot compete with [beach towns], but it is a different kind, type of competition,” said Mayor Pasquale Menna of Red Bank. “We do not have the ocean. If you are going to compete with [towns like] Long Branch or Asbury Park on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in July, you are going to lose that battle. So what you have to do is compete for [their attention] after or before.”

For Menna, one of his focuses is to help turn the roughly one-mile-wide town into a cultural and entertainment hub for Monmouth County, which would involve a degree of creativity.

“People 25 years ago thought that having the clown competition in Montreal was a joke. Now, there are 400,000 people who go to the International Clown Competition on the streets of Montreal every August — otherwise there would be nobody there,” he said. “I am not saying we need to have clown competitions but those are the type of events I think we can have. You cannot compete with the beaches, but you have to get a different crowd.”

Red Bank Councilman Michael Whelan is the council liaison for the borough’s special improvement district known as RiverCenter, which helps to market the town’s business district. The goal for the district is simple — the more people it could attract to Red Bank in the summer the more traction it will gain.

While Red Bank has devised its strategies for the summer, some towns focus on promoting family owned businesses and restaurants in order to bring in tourist dollars.

“We see a minor downswing, especially in our restaurant sector,” said John Costello, a member of the South River Economic Development Commission.

The Middlesex County community of South River is one that is populated with restaurants and a large slice of the borough’s economy is reliant on attracting restaurant goers.

“What you have in South River is that you have small town America. You’re going to be able to deal with the owners, you’re going to be able to deal with the people, you are going to become a regular and have that personal level of contact you are not going to have with a lot of corporate places,” Costello said.

During the summer, the borough also holds events in the hopes of drawing people in.

“You are going to be able to create that year-round relationship and not just that one off transaction. I think that is the thing where we are different. We are going to treat you great all year, not just between Memorial and Labor day.”

Other towns, such as East Brunswick, rely on a water park to both keep residents spending money closer to home and to bring in visitors from all parts of Center New Jersey.

“Last year was our busiest year on record,” East Brunswick Council President Michael Hughes said about Crystal Springs Aquatic Center.

According to Hughes, the council has worked on improving the water park in order to make it more appealing.

“We have revamped the water park. We have a new splash park over there and we put in a new slide two years ago. … The more successful years that we have the more money and the more improvements we are able to put into Crystal Springs,” Hughes said. “A good hot summer at Crystal Springs is good for the township’s budget and we are lucky enough that we have a lot of people who go [to the park] when school is out.”

While some towns focus on live music as a way to bring people to town.

According to Karen Barnes, president of the Woodbridge Metro Chamber of Commerce, in the summer the town holds a concert series.

“That is one of the big attractions in the summer. People from neighboring communities come for the concert series,” she said, adding that the town also has car shows in the summer on Main Street. “I think the summer is a fun time here in Woodbridge.”

In Metuchen, the town also has a plethora of fairs and festivals over the summer months to keep residents in town as well as bring in those from surrounding communities.

“July is generally slow in towns like this that are close to the shore so the people could go away,” Tyreen Reuter, executive director of the Metuchen Area Chamber of Commerce, said.

“Perhaps the biggest thing Metuchen does is in June, our Junebug ArtFest, runs every Saturday in June,” Reuter said. “It’s an amazing community event with art, music, businesses, and civic groups coming together.”

This year the town is also holding its first ever restaurant week from July 19 through the 23.

“Metuchen is a relatively small town but we do have a lot of restaurants,” she said, adding that around 20 restaurants, ranging from Irish Pub food to Latin Bistro.

Summer is also county fair season and both Monmouth and Middlesex counties promote their popular events in their competition with the beach towns.

The Monmouth County Fair is slated to open on July 27  and will run to July 31 at the East Freehold Showgrounds on Kozloski Road.

According to Bill O’Shaughnessy, the 2016 fair chair, this year the fair will be unveiling a new attraction; a trapeze act performed by the High Flying Pages.

The Middlesex County Fair, which is in its 78th year, is scheduled to run from Aug. 1-7  on Cranbury Road in East Brunswick. According to the fair’s website the, around 85,000 visitors attend annually.

But closer to the beach, as in the case of Red Bank, the battle wages on.

So Red Bank has plans to promote its local water in its effort to lure the tourists away from the beaches.

The borough has currently put out a request for proposals for riverboat tours that would dock at Marine Park and cruise visitors around the Navesink River in order to give the town another summertime attraction.

“I think whatever we end up doing at Marine Park is a huge piece of that puzzle,” Whelan said in regards to how to pull more people into the town. “At least for the summer months, we could come up with something down there that will captivate a generation.”

According to James Scavone, executive director of RiverCenter, the borough tries to hold events to get beachgoers to give the town a second look.

“There are a lot of things happening in Red Bank over the summer that hopefully can attract people off the beach for a day or part of the day,” he said, adding that the town holds special events in the summer such as a sidewalk sale, indie movie festivals and other festivals.

“Just by making sure that there is always something going on that can attract a crowd of people helps us compete with some of the beach towns,” Scavone said.

While Red Bank lacks beachfront property that would make it more attractive in the summer, it does have a river that it seeks to capitalize on within the next year.

“Red Bank is surrounded by more water than land and we really do not utilize our water as much as we should,” said Cindy Burnham, president of the borough council.

Every year Burnham advocates for more use of the Navesink River and helps to plan events such as Paddle the Navesink Day in the beginning of September.

“As far as what you could do is you could rent a kayak or canoe from Red Bank Marina and you could go down the Swimming River  (an enclosed area upstream from the Navesink River) and do bird watching,” she said.

Contact Michael Nunes at mnunes@gmnews.com.