In the shadow of the Prudential Center, a restaurant row struggles to attract locals

Pictured above: New Jersey devils fans mill around outside Brick City Bar and Grill.

Seven years ago, the opening of the Prudential Center in Newark gave high hopes for the continued revitalization of the city. Instead, local businesses that rely on the arena’s patrons are not feeling the benefits.

Located right across the street from the Prudential Center is a small restaurant row comprised of three restaurants – Edison Ale House, Loft47, and Brick City Bar and Grill. Fans enter and exit the arena almost right in front of all three restaurants. But even with such proximity, both have struggled with a lack of consistent patronage.

“We moved in one year after the arena was built, and have felt the affects of the arena’s NHL New Jersey Devils lockout, [the] New Jersey Nets moving, and lack of events,” said Edison Ale House general partner Ray Levy. “They need to have more concerts and events, because we struggle to attract tourists and locals.”

The 2012-2013 National Hockey League lockout caused troubles for the trio of restaurants after the typical 82-game season was shortened to just 48. For restaurants in the area, hockey night patronage doubles and sometimes triples their business. But on non-game and event nights, staffs are cut and the restaurants struggle to keep doors open.

“When the lockout happened, waiters and waitresses lost shifts, and it was hard to stay in business,” Levy said. “The Nets leaving didn’t affect us that much, but when the lockout hit, then it hurt. We needed local patronage but never got it. I don’t even think locals know we’re here.”

One block away from the Edison Place restaurants is the Gateway Center, an office complex that has many commercial businesses, and connects to Newark Penn Station. Thousands work in and commute through the center daily, but few venture just a block away to restaurant row.

“If there are no events at the arena, we rely on locals to come have a drink after work. But honestly, commuters would rather go home,” Brick City Bar and Grill manager Dan Wasama said. “We make $3000 to $4000 on an average night, but during hockey nights, [we make about] $15,000.“

The nearby Broad and Market Street intersection has a reputation as being a dangerous area in Newark, and that has affected perception of the radius around the intersection. Wasama thought security in the area had been improved by the city, but still felt tourists and nearby employees and commuters didn’t completely feel safe.

Penn Station commuter Amy Stewart echoed that sentiment. “I don’t like to be on Broad Stree," she said, adding that she thinks there's illegal activity going on near the intersection. “I literally come to work and go home. I trust the restaurants in my city to be safer.”

– Loft47 patrons adopt Irishman, who says insults of Newark are "a load of rubbish" –

Wasama spoke about how tourists walk directly to the stadium and then Penn Station, avoiding Broad Street completely. “Newark has a reputation for being a bad and dangerous place to visit,” Wasama said. “New Yorkers don’t want to come over here for anything. It takes literally 15 minutes by train to get here, but people won’t even do that.”

Newark is the last stop on the World Trade Center to Newark Path train, and Wasama’s statement seemed to resonate among commuters in New York. Outside of the World Trade Center memorial, tourist Mark Shilton said, “I’m not making a trip to New Jersey at all, I’ve heard too many negative things about that state and don’t want to get caught up.”

Management at both Edison Ale House and Brick City Bar and Grill agree that the Prudential Center needs to host more events and that the city should continue to revitalize the area, both of which they think will help to improve business and the community.

Norman Rockwell American Chronicles At Newark Museum Until May 26

The traveling exhibition of Norman Rockwell, America’s most famous illustrator, will show until May 26 at the Newark Museum, before it goes to Italy for it’s next stop. American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell is a traveling exhibition of 363 illustrations and 50 paintings.

Rockwell is considered the best illustrator of the 20th century, and yet you won’t see any of his work at the MoMa or the MET.  In the 1920’s, Rockwell became famous for capturing American life through his illustrations, at a time when the most respected artists were doing abstract art. 

Earlier this month, Dr. Joyce Schiller, a curator of the Rockwell Center for American Art, the institution responsible for the exhibition, gave a lecture on Rockwell at the Newark Museum to a modest crowd of about 30 people.  

“This exhibition is important for Newark because you won’t see the art of illustrators in the museums in New York City,” said Dr. Schiller in an interview after the lecture. “Rockwell was the best illustrator of the time, but he wasn’t considered an artist.”

Rockwell’s illustrations for the cover of the Saturday Evening Post, the magazine with the largest subscriptions in the U.S. at the time, could be easily mistaken for real photographs due to his precision and detail. His first cover, “Boy and The Baby Carriage”, which appeared in 1916, has a playful look and feel and vivid characters.  The painting illustrates a well-dressed boy pushing what was considered a fancy baby carriage at the time, and two other boys in less formal clothes on their way to a baseball game. All three boys in the painting were recurring characters in Rockwell’s art.

In his biography, My Life As An Illustrator, Rockwell writes, “The most difficult problem is thinking up the ideas which a majority of the readers will understand and is damn hard to be universal to find some situation which will strike the housewife, the farmer and the gossip and be understandable by all.” For Rockwell, painting the same characters in different situations helped overcome part of that challenge.

In the beginning of Rockwell’s career, he wanted to capture life as he wanted it to be, excluding the ugly parts of it, but his goal changed overtime, especially during the Civil Rights era.

Another high point in the exhibit is Rockwell’s “Four Freedoms” paintings, which were inspired by a speech from President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  After publishing the illustrations on the Post, the paintings were commissioned by the U.S. government during World War II to raise money and persuade the public to favor the war. The four freedoms paintings – freedom of speech, freedom to worship, freedom from want and freedom of fear – were scenes of American life capturing each one of those themes.

After gaining popularity through his work on the post, Rockwell began doing work for other magazines like Lady’s Home Journal and Life magazine, and worked on ads for clients like Colgate.

“All the elements in his illustrations tell the same story,” said Dr. Schiller, in reference to the collection. “He often used furniture and clothing to tell the story about the characters.” 

While Dr. Schiller’s lecture generated a lot of positive reactions from the audience. A man approached Dr. Schiller to ask a somewhat controversial question during a coffee and snack reception after the talk. “Was Norman Rockwell a racist?” asked the unidentified man. It was a fair question given that there are very few people of color in his illustrations.

Dr. Schiller explained that Rockwell had been asked not to paint people of color in the covers for the Post unless they were in service roles, and that he became increasingly frustrated with the Post and their censoring of his political views. 

Rockwell eventually left the Post to work for Look magazine, where he published, “The Problem We All Live With,” an illustration of Ruby Bridges, the first black student to attend an all-white school. The partnership between Rockwell and Look magazine made it easier for Rockwell to express scenes from the civil rights movement. 

The American Chronicles exhibition attracts anywhere between 10,000 to 70,000 people at each location, said Dr. Schiller. The Newark Museum curators declined to respond to our questions about admissions, or why they chose to showcase the Rockwell exhibit work. 

But what is without question is that the exhibition is  one of a kind and won’t be found anywhere else outside of Newark. At least not until May 26.