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“Sometimes the hill deters the elderly from walking here,” Amoruso concedes. But it’s good exercise, and there are lots of places you can stop to eat, drink, or shop along the way.” Rich in iron deposits and situated on the Rockaway River, Boonton prospered with its ironworks in Colonial days; later, its economy was supported by factories, including one that made molded plastic dishes called Boontonware.But the last major factory closed around 1990, and downtown fell into disuse and disrepair.The town is considering a major renovation of Rotary Park near the mall and is looking to ease that most intractable of downtown woes—parking.Collingswood “Festivals R Us” could be the motto keeping Haddon Avenue (aka Restaurant Row) bright.“There were a lot of vacant storefronts.” In 1971, after heated debate among citizens and officials, Cape May closed off a three-block portion of Washington Street to create an outdoor pedestrian mall.Workers planted trees and shrubbery, store owners spruced up their shops, benches were placed in shady spots, and suddenly Cape May had an authentic downtown whose charm matched the surrounding hotels.This, in turn, spurred renovations of hotels like the splendid Congress Hall.
Luckily, aesthetics and an appreciation of history carried the day.
Next door, the Darress Theater, a 1919 treasure, lost its marquee when a truck struck the building last year.
But in addition to live entertainment and current movies, the Darress still turns back the clock, running silent movies accompanied by a live organist.
“The Washington Street mall is our way of saying that if you’re here for a vacation, there’s more than just a beach,” says Carroll, former owner of the Mainstay, one of Cape May’s loveliest inns, and currently chairman of the restoration committee of Cape May Stage, a local arts organization. It ranges from fun and funky joints like the Ugly Mug and the Mad Batter to fine restaurants such as 410 Bank Street and the Blue Pig, which rank with the best in the state.
In the summer, horse-drawn carriages filled with visitors clip-clop through town as onboard guides describe the passing sights and historic highlights, their sonorous voices carrying gently in the sweet ocean air.