A "Great Street" in New Jersey
The picturesque Washington Street Mall is the heart of Cape May, New Jersey, America’s original seaside resort. The Mall serves as Cape May’s town square, a gathering point for visitors to the resort town, as well as those who call the area home. There are over 75 establishments lining the Washington Street Mall, made up of unique boutiques, shops, fine dining restaurants, bars, quick eats, activities, and services. Numerous seating areas, luscious gardens, shady trees, historical markers, Instagram-worthy photo opportunities, and more make it a welcoming and inviting downtown attraction for all. Attracting not only visitors to Cape May, the Mall also attracts visitors from other Jersey Shore towns as well those from up and down the East Coast.
Dedicated June 24th, 1971, the Mall was a construction project of the City of Cape May's Urban Renewal Program, which took place from 1965 to 1971. The purpose of the program was to turn the heart of Cape May into a charming showplace complete with a revitalized downtown street to attract hundreds of thousands of tourists while also improving quality of life for residents as well. In 2008, the Mall received a major renovation, improving the street’s character, form, and function.
Even with it being a pedestrian street, The Washington Street Mall does a great job of balancing the competing needs of a typical street with that of adjoining land uses. Numerous bicycle racks are located on every block, helping to promote an easy way for those staying or living in Cape May to get to the area. A “Jitney” shuttle service, with stops at Cape May hotels, neighborhoods, and the beachfront, is another way that people can get to the Mall. The Jitneys are eco-friendly, running on compressed natural gas, and are Americans with Disabilities Act accessible. They also serve as a park-and-ride, as they stop at a free parking lot further away from Washington Street as well as at other free parking areas. An expanded and modern parking setup, complete with designated areas for pick-ups, drop offs, deliveries, and even golf carts, is located along the Mall area serving those coming from out of town. Streets along the Mall are also set up well, with well-marked crosswalks and safety features to protect the pedestrian-only areas.
The Mall fits in with the City of Cape May nicely. As a historic town full of structures made up of Victorian style, this translates onto the Mall as well. Buildings along the Washington Street Mall make it a Victorian showplace, with intricate designs and gingerbread-like architecture. Cape May MAC, a nonprofit cultural organization dedicated to the preservation, interpretation, and cultural enrichment of the greater Cape May region, has a major presence on the Mall, where most of its tours and events originate from. Additionally, with it being only a few blocks from the ocean, the Mall also welcomes those who come straight off the beach every afternoon in the summertime. Many establishments feature beach-related items.
As Cape May’s town square, the Washington Street Mall is a hotspot for social interactions of the greater Cape May area. The Mall’s is famous for its sidewalk sales, where businesses bring their wares outside among the shady, tree-lined street. Popular events such as live music and Zumba classes in the adjacent Rotary Park, the Halloween and Christmas parades, and Christmas tree lighting ceremony contribute to additional social activity.
The Mall is well-liked because of its ambiance. Restaurants have outdoor patios, which are visually appealing and are a great way to enjoy the cool ocean breezes of Cape May in the summer. An antique clock, fountains, information stands, historical markers, and an authentic old ship’s bell on display complement the atmosphere. There are numerous benches along the Mall, but the planters also serve as seating areas. These planters feature well-matured trees and other flora native to coastal areas. Seasonal plantings are always added to keep the area looking fresh. The planters, along with street itself, are well-maintained, through partnerships between the City of Cape May and the Washington Street Mall Business Improvement District. A special assessment is imposed on properties within the District for the purposes of promoting the economic and general welfare of the District and the City. Funds are used for holiday decorations, landscaping, marketing, and other uses.
The Washington Street Mall is truly one of New Jersey’s great streets. It represents the gold standard in terms of having a true sense of place, cultural and historical interest, community involvement, and a vision for tomorrow. As the picturesque heart of America’s original seaside resort, it is one of New Jersey’s most popular streets.