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Local business owners discuss outdoor "pedestrian mall"

Benefits and concerns expressed during Wednesday's Ellicottville Chamber Membership meeting regarding an idea to close down Monroe St. for dining and shopping

The Ellicottville Chamber of Commerce hosted a membership meeting this past Wednesday, June 10, 2020 via Zoom. The main topic of discussion was the idea of utilizing street space for dining and retail …

POSSIBLE USE OF MONROE STREET

Brian McFadden, Executive Director of the Ellicottville Chamber of Commerce, opened the meeting by saying that the Chamber agreed to facilitate a conversation that has been circulating involving the potential closure of Monroe Street to allow downtown businesses an opportunity to expand their services in an outdoor setting. Similar initiatives are being implemented in cities and towns across the U.S., where streets are being closed for the purpose of allowing businesses - namely restaurants - to provide additional dining space, thus helping to increase revenue while under restricting mandates. Brian mentioned that Corning, NY has closed 4 blocks for such purposes, and Olean City Council has recently approved the use of sidewalk space for a similar initiative.

Brian’s question to the group: Would Ellicottville businesses be interested? Would you like this be temporary? Or long-term? Should it include just restaurants? Or shop, too?

Kendra (Villaggio) expressed that she would love to see a “pedestrian mall” happen, with tents and kiosks from both restaurants and shops. “It would be glorious to have people walking up and down the street.”  However, she did bring up the question of handicap parking, or lack of, if the street were to be closed.

Concern came from Sean Lowes (The City Garage), who expressed that he was under the initial impression that the street closure would be geared towards the restaurants, to provide them the opportunity to gain a little more business. This may be especially helpful to those restaurants who don’t currently have outdoor dining. His concern is if all of Ellicottville starts putting up tents and blocking off the alleys that lead to Monroe St., his business, which is located beyond the alley on the north side of Monroe St., may be overlooked by visitors. “No one will know my business exists.” He did, however, agree that he thinks it’s kind of a cool idea, but isn’t certain that it will work for the benefit of all businesses, and that some, like his, will suffer.

Annie Coe (Cupcaked) and Frank Maduri (Monroe St. Brick & Brew) both expressed that right now, they rely heavily on curbside pick-up and Brick & Brew’s delivery service. Shutting down the south side of Monroe St. would not allow customers to conveniently pull up, or in the case of Brick & Brew’s delivery driver, they wouldn’t be able to get their delivery guy in and out.

Tiffany Frentz (Tim & Bonnie’s Pizzeria) expressed her concern about her business not being located in the village. “How would a pedestrian mall help a business like mine?” It was suggested by another meeting participant that perhaps she could be offered space somewhere on Monroe St. to set up and serve her menu items.

Brian posed a question to Nick Pitillo (Villaggio): With the anticipation of entering Phase 3 next week, let’s say the state allows 50% occupancy inside your establishment; would adding outdoor dining be an advantage to you? (Villaggio currently does not have designated outdoor dining.) Nick responded that the occupancy challenges are not going to go away. “We’re a tourist town with no tourists right now. Everybody’s trying different things to make things work for them. Even with 50% occupancy, many people are going to prefer to dine outdoors, as the CDC deems it’s safer to be outside. So even if we can bring people in, many of them are going to want to be outside. If my sidewalk were flat, it could work for me. But it isn’t.  And there are a lot of regulations from the SLA and egress that we still need to adhere to. This may not be as easy as we think. Is this something we should pursue and look a little harder into? Absolutely. It’s definitely a concept that can help restaurants increase occupancy. But it should be all inclusive. Every business is going to be affected one way or another, whether it’s positively or negatively. So it definitely requires the right planning.”

Ideas floated around the group about how to set up Monroe St. Should it be closed only from Washington St. up to the alleys?  Or should the entire street be closed? Do you close just one side of the street to allow for vehicle traffic? Or allow use of business space on both sides of the street with a one-way down the middle? (This was deemed unsafe for diners, coupled with the fact that emergency vehicles require 20’ of space to get through.) There are many delivery trucks that come through regularly and use the alleyways for their deliveries, plus there are some residential properties on Monroe St.; those residents will need to be able to drive in and out.  And it was also explained by Brian that if the closure of Monroe St. is temporary, someone will need to prep the street closure every week, which includes putting up no parking signs and road blocks and then taking them down after the weekend, etc.

As Nick explained, the ability for restaurants to expand to the street during this time period - although no special license is required - still requires egress compliance, and is a privilege that can be revoked by the state at any time. With all the changes constantly coming out of our governor, Brian suggested waiting a couple weeks to see what happens when the region enters Phase 4. Brian also stated the current Executive Order allowing extension of liquor licenses to outdoor seating was only for 30 days and what happens after that is anyone’s guess.

Many of the meeting’s participants chimed in that it could be beneficial for Ellicottville and the businesses here to have a pedestrian mall at present, if it were planned properly, but that we shouldn’t wait until Phase 4 to see what happens. It could be a big draw for Ellicottville, which depends greatly on tourism visits; and those tourism visits are needed now.

Jessica Gilbert (Ava Grace Fashions) mentioned that Stroll the Streets is still on the schedule, and will run Fridays from 5:00-8:00PM starting July 4th weekend.  Having a pedestrian mall on Fridays could be a nice compliment.

Katie DiDonato (Inn at Holiday Valley) reported that they are seeing calls coming into the resort from out-of-towners wanting to know what activities are available in Ellicottville. “People want to come down, but they want to make sure there are things to do. With Sky High opening this weekend, chairlift lifts, and kayaking & paddleboarding available, people are getting excited,” she said. “I’m in favor of the idea, sooner than later. We should try it and see how it goes.”

Brian also reported that he is getting a lot of calls at the Chamber office from people asking if the restaurants and shops are open. He suggested going to the Village Board to see what Ellicottville would need to do to implement the closure of Monroe St. for such purpose, and then pick a day to try it out.  Doug Bush (Village Board representative) was present during the membership meeting and said that the Village has talked about it already, and as long as Ellicottville can come up with a plan that is safe, they’ll be happy to support it.

GIFT CARDS

Barb Pump, Project Development Manager for the Ellicottville Chamber of Commerce, advised business owners that at the end of June, the Chamber will no longer offer the $25 gift card for $20 promotion for local businesses. However, she expressed that the Chamber would still like to offer business’ gift cards, but at full price, if any business would like to stay on.