The state’s first municipality to close a section of its downtown to vehicular traffic to help businesses there survive the pandemic had a rocky start to that effort last weekend.
Village Soup reported that Saturday was a hot day in Rockland, which probably helped account for a sparse public turnout, and few downtown businesses participated in the effort — but those that did reported success, said David Gogel, the executive director of Rockland Main Street Inc.
Bangor, Rockland and Portland have closed portions of their downtowns starting in June to allow businesses ― smaller businesses especially ― to expand onto sidewalks and streets, thereby complying with social-distancing requirements while giving them a chance to make some money. The cities began considering the idea 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.
“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,” Gogel told the Rockland City Council, according to Village Soup.
Portland city councilors approved closing several streets for the month of June earlier this month, despite concerns by some businesses about the impact a full closure would have on deliveries and curbside pickup. Bangor’s street closure discussion with an initial plan floated that included the closure of Broad Street as well as Central Street and part of Harlow Street. That plan was quickly shot down as most business owners along Central Street reacted negatively to the idea. Rockland’s council created a task force — including public safety officials and merchants — to fine-tune the plan and monitor its success.
Rockland has a unique problem compared to those other, larger cities. Rockland’s Main Street is also U.S. Route 1, the primary thoroughfare for travel through downtown, making street closures problematic.
Rockland’s councilors said they plan to discuss the results with downtown businesses and see if further closures can be fine-tuned, the Village Soup reported.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the number of streets closed in Portland.