Facing the world’s first pandemic summer (2020), the Hunterdon County Office of Economic Development presented a unique way to showcase 7 vibrant historic downtowns and communities – from Clinton and High Bridge Borough at the county’s northern end to the county seat of Flemington, and Delaware River Towns including Stockton Borough, the City of Lambertville, Milford and Frenchtown Borough. Each town, their attractions of historic architecture, walkable commercial districts with boutique shoppes and stellar restaurants, as well as multiple options for online users to map out and plan visits, are presented on the county-operated website HunterdonMainStreets.com.
Mark Saluk, director of Economic Development for Hunterdon County, discussed methods of increasing visitorship, tourism and foot traffic to county destinations and the downtowns famous for architectural appeal and country town charm. Working with Hunterdon’s merchant organizations like the Clinton Guild and Flemington Community Partnership, the Economic Development team gathers and posts creative content online and on social media promoting events happening in historic downtowns, or near main street districts as proximity helps attract patrons and customers.
“We make sure people are informed whenever new stores and businesses are opening, and of the merchants’ specials and seasonal sales – and we most certainly promote the area events digitally. As we add more online, in e-newsletters and through social media, our historic downtowns’ merchants report that customers told them they discovered places through HunterdonMainStreets.com. In turn, content on our calendars and in e-newsletters increased a lot. Vendors and people running events knowing this initiative is performing well to get the word out – they come to us more and more,” Saluk said.
In the hub of Historic Flemington Borough, Hunterdon County Economic Development is headquartered at 119 Main Street (the Reading-Large House); the elaborate Greek Revival style building designed by Mahlon Fisher, a Hunterdon County-born and self-educated architect. The County leased the space for its Economic Development staff office at the iconic building from the Hunterdon County Chamber of Commerce.
Content of the new web portal includes businesses, attractions, and venues including the burgeoning arts and culture scene of Hunterdon County. For example, links on the Lambertville section of HunterdonMainStreets.com include the River Towns’ area playhouse Music Mountain Theatre, which opened on Rt. 179 in West Amwell in 2017, and recreation with Delaware River Tubing. The Lambertville section also notes the recognition that Hunterdon County’s only ‘city’ was named one of the Top 15 Prettiest Towns in America by Forbes Magazine, plus being named the “Antiques Capital of New Jersey.”
As Hunterdon County Director John E. Lanza announced on January 4, the County’s Economic Development division is formally transitioning into a new, full-fledged County governmental department – the Department of Economic Development and Tourism. The visionary move for 2022 and beyond by Hunterdon County arrives after initial momentum and initiatives launched by Saluk’s team – interactive sites like HunterdonMainStreets.com are the pillars for a digital marketing, user-friendly revolution.
In pre-pandemic times Hunterdon did its homework to be poised for the tourism and hospitality boom.
“Several years ago with the aid of a grant, Hunterdon County partnered with Stockton University to fund a tourism study that revealed not only steady growth in tourism in Hunterdon County, but an immense potential for greater economic activity that will arise from it. The study recommended maximizing the county’s potential as a tourism destination by working with both public sector and private sector partners to coordinate a strategy to broadly promote and celebrate Hunterdon County’s charm and beauty, to attract tourists and generate economic activity. The result has been the development of our Hunterdon579Trail.com, featuring artisanal food and beverage makers, and HunterdonMainStreets.com, focusing on local merchants in our historic downtowns,” County Director John Lanza explained.
Interest in visits to the historic downtowns plus farms and vineyards in the agritourism sector has been stirred both among in-county and adjacent residents. Hunterdon borders Somerset, Warren, Morris and Mercer counties in New Jersey, and Bucks County, PA across its scenic Delaware River crossings and bridges, and attracts visitors from various points between the New York City and Philadelphia regional markets. Wineries including Old York Cellars, Unionville Vineyards and others are conveniently located off Highway 31 and in other bucolic parts of Hunterdon County.
Historic Main Streets’ destinations are a part of the new Hunterdon Beer Trail showcasing breweries such as Lone Eagle on Stangl Road in Flemington, Descendants in Milford, High Rail Brewing in High Bridge, and Odd Bird Brewing in Stockton. A Beer Trail passport allows visitors to earn a commemorative glass gift after trips to each brewery.
In September 2021 Preservation NJ was enthused to present its first “PNJ on Tour” event in Hunterdon County with the Downtown Frenchtown walking tour hosted by Borough Historian Rick Epstein, and a networking happy hour at the National Hotel’s patio.
Part of the American Rescue Plan funding Hunterdon County is receiving from the federal government (in 2021 and 2022 installments) have been allocated towards costs for county tourism development. The branding, logo and online portal for the Hunterdon County Tourism Partnership, which received federal nonprofit status in 2021, are nearing completion.
Saluk notes that the Tourism Partnership will be an umbrella brand for the 579 Trail and Hunterdon Main Streets’ to function and flourish under, “maintaining their distinct identities while being part of the countywide effort and cross-platform promotions.”
Author, content strategist and historic preservation activist Rikki N. Massand serves as Associate Editor of his hometown Montgomery News in Somerset County. He also covers Hunterdon County government, planning and economic development for Flemington’s TAPInto online news and freelances for multiple tristate area ‘newszines.’
Rikki is a regional historian and local advocate in his present municipal government-appointed roles on the Montgomery Township Landmarks Preservation Commission and as township liaison to the Delaware & Raritan Canal Commission. He is also experienced in not-for-profit administration and advocacy as office administrator, records manager and bookkeeper for a local United Church of Christ.
Rikki holds master’s degrees from Columbia University and Quinnipiac University. His work has appeared in print titles including China Daily, amNew York, Syosset Advance, AsianWeek and more.