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Rockland reports mixed success with closing downtown to traffic

By Stephen Betts | Jun 22, 2020
Photo by: Stephen Betts Main Street Rockland at 4 p.m. June 20.

Rockland — Few downtown businesses participated this past weekend in the pilot project of expanding their operations outside while a section of Main Street was closed to vehicle traffic.

But for those who did participate, the results were positive, according to city leaders.

"For the businesses that took advantage of the street closure the weekend was a success. We had less participation than expected which is disappointing. It sounds like many wanted to wait and see how this first weekend went before taking part in the concept," said David Gogel, the executive director of Rockland Main Street Inc.

Rockland City Councilor Ben Dorr said June 22 he was out on Main Street Saturday and thought having the street closed was really lovely.

"Was it a million degrees? Yes. Was it quiet on the street? Yes. Was the goal to bring hundreds of people to downtown Rockland like the (Summer) Solstice or Blues Festival? In my personal estimation, no," Dorr said.

"A lot of different people are going to have a lot of different opinions the success of this past weekend and our job as a City Councilors is to listen to people and try and make an informed decision about what does the most good for the most people," Dorr said.

"I think it was an excellent experiment and we can’t expect to get everything right on the first try. We also need to consider the importance of creating spaces that don’t cost any money to participate in and prioritizing people over cars.

It will be interesting to continue the conversation about how to make Rockland more pedestrian friendly, welcoming to all, dynamic and beautiful," Dorr concluded.

Councilor Nate Davis said his impression was that the businesses that participated did well, in some cases very well, but relatively few businesses participated.

"I do want to proceed with future closures, and I want to work with Rockland Main Street, Inc. to try to get as many businesses to participate as possible. More generally, I want to cultivate a spirit of experimentation and flexibility as we explore how Rockland can thrive in this changed economy. This weekend was such an experiment, and I hope we'll use what we learned to get broader participation next weekend and make each successive experiment more successful," he said.

On the Downtown Rockland Biz Forum Facebook page, merchants and restaurant owners discussed the weekend results.

Melody Wolfertz of In Good Company restaurant said the results were fantastic.

"We did in two days what we did in the last two weeks," Wolfertz said.

Lynn Archer of the Brass Compass said on the forum that it would be better if the closure was only during Friday and Saturday evenings. Wolfertz said that would work if restaurants were given time to set up prior to the dinner hours.

Sierra Dietz of the Grasshopper Shop said on the forum that the shop did better on Saturday than the previous Saturday but was even busier on Sunday when the closure was not in effect. She also suggested that having the closure only for Friday and Saturday evenings might work better.

Heidi Neal of Loyal Biscuit reported sales down significantly Saturday, June 20, compared to the previous Saturday when there was no closure.

City Manager Tom Luttrell said Monday that he was scheduled to have a Zoom meeting June 23 with a task force that includes several downtown businesses.

The Council agreed to close Main Street from Park Street to Glover's Passage this past weekend as well as the upcoming Friday evening from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

After that, the Council would wait for feedback before deciding whether to continue the experiment.

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Comments (6)
Posted by: Valerie Wass | Jun 25, 2020 14:53

Park Street Grille opened yesterday afternoon.  They were slammed all afternoon into the evening.  So nice to see the community support our local businesses.  Still haven't seen what they did for the tables in the parking spots.  Was told that they have cement barriers around the parking spots.  With alittle bit of imagination, anything is possible!

Posted by: Betty McCommic | Jun 24, 2020 09:26

I assume the businesses are still worried about to many people around with out masks and close together.Worried about virus. That is my opinion only .!!

Posted by: STEVEN VITTUM | Jun 23, 2020 08:34

Yes - I agree with Valerie.  If we have to close the streets, evening is better.  The daytime closure hurts other businesses that are less accessible, such as our great antiques shop “Antiques Etcetera” at the top of Main Street.  These businesses mostly close by 5 or 6 p.m. but rely on the daytime trade to be successful.

Posted by: Valerie Wass | Jun 23, 2020 07:30

OK.  It wasn't a flop but it didn't really attract people to dine downtown.  Again, curious to see what happens this coming weekend.  I have to agree with the restaurant owners.  Close Main St. during dinner hours, not all day!

Posted by: Nicky Staples | Jun 23, 2020 05:15

I went down Main Street twice in the evening when the roads are shut down it seemed to me the kids had a great time rollerblading skateboarding and riding bikes there was only maybe 4 businesses opened there were like 7 officers on duty other than the kids having a great time it seemed like a waste of resources.

Posted by: Kendall Merriam | Jun 22, 2020 17:52

Article never says how many businesses participated. Hard to judge how this really went.

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