Old signs of downtown

AM New York had a neat online feature recently about all kinds of signs — vintage, odd and quirky — around New York City. It reminded me of a few photos taken downtown, as well as a story last year about what was “unearthed” after the buildings across from The Savoy were knocked down. I couldn’t find that original story I saw but The Rahway Center Partnership has something in the window about it (photo, above left) by Tony Giaccobbe:

The mural likely dates to the late 1800s when the building stood alone. It was the home of Jay-Dee Furniture and before that for many years the Marks Harris department store.

The mural is since gone (photo left) and the buildings eventually will make way for The Westbury and its parking deck. One of my favorite signs downtown is the old Robinson’s paint sign on Main Street (above, right), which last I heard has plans to become an upscale wine and cheese shop or liquor store at some point. Certainly there are more elsewhere in Rahway but these are just some shots from walking around downtown.

Downtown looks a lot different than it did even just a few years ago, and with the current and future construction, it’s likely to change even more, but hopefully it can retain some of their character amidst all of the new structures. I’m really only familiar with the Rahway of the last 10 years or so, but I’m sure some of you longtime residents can share some interesting anecdotes and stories about what used to be where.

And then there’s this AMNY story about New York City’s ugliest buildings that reminded me of another potential future post, if anyone has any local suggestions.

From West Scott to East Cherry

East Cherry Street will be getting “Just A Little Healthier” when the eatery moves in to replace a former soul food establishment by late August or early September.

Whether it becomes a second location or relocates from its current West Scott Avenue digs is “still up in the air,” owner/founder Ron Livingston said in a telephone interview last week.

Just A Little Healthier opened at 228 W. Scott Ave. about a year-and-a-half ago, focusing on low-fat, low-carb offerings and even got a write-up in The New York Times last October. Livingston said the location at 95 E. Cherry St. opened up some time after he started looking into a downtown space, and signed a five-year lease.

Arts space for old Woolworth building

A multi-purpose arts space will fill the former Woolworth building, 1433 Main St., at least for the near future.

The property was acquired by Landmark Companies, developers of Park Square, but has been leased to Rahway Cafe and Stage for two years until they come up with a plan for it. Eric Harvitt of Landmark Companies said they’re still deciding on concept proposals for the property.

The approximately 6,000-square-foot space will be used for practice/rehearsals, showcases and receptions while the front area will be open all the time as a cafe/lounge and retail area selling the works of local artists, according to general manager Marc Calamares.

“We figured the space would be perfect for our purpose, and would also coincide in the direction in which the city wants to move,” said Calamares, who expects to open before the end of this month.

Park Square update: October

The first rental units of Park Square are expected to come on line by October. Once the exterior brickwork is finished on the four-story development, streetscape along Irving Street will begin, with a target of Sept. 1.

Certificates of occupancy will be done by floor — about 20 units at a time — said Eric Harvitt of Keasbey-based Landmark Companies during a tour of the project earlier this month.

The Main Street side of the project (right) is expected to be completed in about 18 months and should move quicker since there are no design decisions to make, as it’s very similar to the Irving Street structure.

Park Square will have 159 rental apartments: 63 units on Irving along with 7,000 square feet of retail space, and 96 units on Main Street, with a courtyard and driveway between the two buildings. Retail tenants also are expected to begin operation by the fall; they are in discussions with a coffee/teahouse and an optometrist.

The project broke ground more than a year ago and occupies a block of downtown that once housed, among other things, a bank, hardware store, boarding house, gas station and thrift shop.

New demolition contract for Hamilton

A new contract — $90,000 more than the original bid — was awarded for demolition of the Hamilton Laundry building. City Council on Monday night accepted a $369,500 bid from Meco Demolition of Bensalem, Pa., the second lowest-bidder. LVI/Mazzocchi Wrecking of East Hanover had been awarded a $281,000 bid by the governing body in May.

City Attorney Louis Rainone said the lowest bidder had a conforming bid but subsequent information from the second bidder revealed a “failure to disclose some ownership issues.”

State regulations require companies to disclose all who own at least 10 percent of a firm, he said, and the original low bidder had indicated it was 100 percent owned by one corporation, but that company was owned 100 percent another firm, which was owned by another corporation, and “on down the line.”

It’s unclear when the Hamilton Street structure eventually will come down to make way for a 1,000-seat ampitheater and park, but if you figure it was expected in June after the original contract was awarded in May, perhaps work might begin by September. At that time, it was expected that construction would begin in the spring and be completed by the summer.

Two-way traffic begets parking issues

More than a half-dozen residents came before City Council last night to express their dismay or preach patience when it comes to the new parking configuration that came with two-way traffic.

Harry Patel, owner of Beverly Sweet Shop, estimates business is half what is was before now that on-street parking isn’t allowed in front of his Main Street shop, a few doors from East Milton Avenue. Others said the businesses along East Milton Avenue before Fulton Street also have been affected by on-street spaces no longer in front of their stores. James Pekarofski, whose family ran a shoe store on Irving Street for many years, said there was always parking on Irving and Main streets, even when downtown had two-way traffic. He suggested the new parking configuration “may be a subtle way of relocating stores.”

Council President Samson Steinman assured residents that the parking plan is not complete and more may be done, whether adding traffic lights or reducing Stop signs. He stressed that the changes were made for safety reasons, as the average speed on Irving and Main streets was 40 miles per hour. A portion of the approximately 40 parking spaces were actually illegal spots that people came to rely on, he added.

Bob Markey of West Main Street said time will prove the decision to create two-way traffic the smart thing to do, but changing a 75-year-old traffic pattern will not be easy, and could create an economic hardship for some. He suggested eliminated or modifying the turning lanes, which took away almost a dozen spaces near Elizabeth Avenue and West Main, in the same way as on West Grand where they’re active only during peak hours.

There have been some growing pains, said Josh Donovan, a member of the Rahway Center Partnership and Zoning Board of Adjustment, and hopes to bring stakeholders together in the near future to fix problems or suggestion modifications. “Those parking issues will remain if they’re not fixed today, no matter what business comes to town in the future.”

For some past posts on two-way traffic and parking, see:
Change of direction
More traffic changes afoot
Three side streets to change direction

Check out the new poll, above right, to let us know what you think so far of the new traffic patterns and parking.

Traffic changes: So far so good?

In the nearly two weeks since two-way traffic was instituted downtown, Police Chief John Rodger said there’s been “occasional confused motorists” but no accidents or incidents to report.

Like many motorists, I was a little surprised to see the consecutive blocks of Stop signs along Irving Street: Elizabeth Avenue, Elm Avenue (photo left), and Poplar Street.

Rodger said the city is evaluating potentially removing Stop signs at either Elm or Poplar, “but it’s too soon to tell.” He first would like to see what additional parking would be eliminated with the removal of the Poplar or Elm Stop signs. “Once that’s done we will see what the best course of action is,” he said, declining to put a timeline on the evaluation.

The Stop signs at Elizabeth and Elm actually save some parking spaces. Rodger said there can’t be parking without the Stop signs because of “line of sight issues with vehicles traveling both ways on Irving.”

About 40 parking spaces in all were eliminated downtown since Stop signs actually minimized the reduction of parking spots, he said. Originally, it was expected that more like 60 spaces would be eliminated. There are more intersection modifications planned in the future.

What do you think? Check out our new poll question and chime in on the comments section.