ROCKLAND, Maine — City councilors on Monday approved shutting down Main Street to vehicle traffic during the month of June to give restaurants and shops outdoor space to operate as Maine businesses emerge from the coronavirus-related economic shutdown.
The plan is the first of its kind in Maine and has generated wide support since it was first floated two weeks ago. However, some downtown business owners asked city officials to impose the closure in a way that would not affect curbside pick-up and deliveries.
“Reopening the state is not just about reopening businesses in a way that they were before,” Councilor Nate Davis said. “This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity, not just for Main Street in Rockland but around the world, to try to reinvision aspects of how society is constructed.”
The city council voted unanimously for the plan at their meeting Monday night after receiving input from the Maine Department of Transportation because Main Street doubles as U.S. Route 1, a state-managed roadway. In passing the order, the city council also created a task force — including public safety officials and merchants — to fine-tune the plan over the next two weeks.
As of Monday night, city officials had not decided if the closure would be for the full month or if the street would only be closed on Friday nights and weekends, as several business owners suggested. The time frame of the closure will be decided after consulting with the task force.
The idea to close Main Street to traffic was floated after Gov. Janet Mills released a phased plan to reopen Maine’s economy in late April that was updated last week to allow some businesses closed in March to open earlier under health guidelines in Maine’s 12 most rural counties, including Knox and excluding Cumberland, York, Penobscot and Androscoggin.
Retailers were allowed open on Monday. Restaurants can reopen for dine-in and outdoor service on May 18. Both are subject to guidelines on capacity and sanitation. Restaurants must keep parties 6 feet apart and record names and contact information for a person in every party.
Outdoor dining is seen as a safer option for restaurants. A recent study from China that analyzed 320 virus outbreaks traced only one to an outdoor space. Twenty states — not yet including Maine — have eased restrictions on dining, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Rockland’s Main Street closure will begin on June 1 and stay in place in some form until the end of the month, though city officials have said the closure could very well be extended if distancing guidelines stay in effect longer.
Businesses will be allowed to use the entire width of sidewalk that is directly adjacent to their building. Retail businesses have been permitted to display merchandise and make sales on the sidewalk. Restaurants will be allowed to set up tables and serve food and beverages on the sidewalk, as well as alcohol, as long as the area is roped off.
Main Street will be closed from Park Street to Glover’s Passage. Rockland’s Main Street is surrounded by one-way side streets, to allow for access to the businesses on these streets, some will open to two-way traffic. Limerock Street will open to two-way traffic to allow for people to access the post office. Elm Street will also open to two-way traffic.
It will be the responsibility of Rockland business owners to ensure that state health guidelines are being followed at all times. It will also be the responsibility of the owner to make sure their outside space is in compliance with the federal Americans With Disabilities Act.