Mill Street divide: Some support the street’s closure while others worry about driving business away
Plans to turn Mill Street into a pedestrian plaza are moving forward as city officials continue to consider options, as well as design a system for imposing a daily fee for businesses that want to use outdoor space.
City Manager Tim Kiser said emails are being sent to Mill Street merchants about a $2 daily fee for businesses that want to have a day-to-day outdoor space on the sidewalk or curbside for merchandise display or tables for dining.
Laura Kofler, owner of Corvus Bakery, attended all the meetings about a permanent pedestrian plaza since Mill Street first closed during the pandemic. She has supported closure 100%.
“They gave us a range of costs for the fee, which is pretty much within the amount mentioned at the meetings,” she said.
She also pointed out that, even though the fee was discussed, it seemed hypothetical whether there was going to be permanent closure. Meanwhile, she has heard nothing but positive things regarding the pedestrian plaza.
“I love it, the closure is family friendly, knowing (there is a lack) of noise and no danger of traffic,” said Kofler.
Mill Street is now a destination point for tourists and locals — a lot more people come down on Saturdays to spend time instead of just run errands, she said.
“And I only see that getting better with the beatification project,” she added. “Placement of tables has proceeded fairly, and city staff outreached to many people. I have a lot of tables outside, three from the city and four of my own. Then again, it’s not mandatory. People can choose not to have tables. And the fee is so reasonable.”
Businesses that would prefer just a one day or holiday weekend display can rent space without committing to the one-year lease, Kiser said. But those rentals can proceed only as long as the space is not being used for one of the city’s special events, like Cornish Christmas.
For everyday use merchants will need to file a permit being sent by mail and commits merchants to a one-year lease. The $2 a day fee will remain in place only while improvement construction is ongoing. It will then rise, probably to the initially proposed $5. During colder months the city will waive the fee when few people would want to dine outside.
SUPPORT AND DISAPPOINTMENT
While a few merchants favor reopening the street to vehicle traffic, some are neutral and several others expressed firm support for the plaza.
Tribal Weaver is a destination for organic cotton, clothing, hemp, jewelry, tobacco pipes, rolling papers and home accessories. Nicole Schaefer, the owner, said the closure has been good for business and focuses people on the downtown strip.
“It relieves stress from cars on the street,” said Schaefer. “We even had cars park on the sidewalk. A lack of parking had been problematic even before the pandemic, but I have no opinion on the fee for outside tables, I hadn’t heard of that.”
Susan Amick, owner of Foothills Mercantile, the toy, candy, gifts and housewares retailer, does not put out any outside displays. She has no objection to other businesses that do. She remembered when the closure initially occurred it was only the block between Main and Bank streets, but then expanded to Neal Street as well. At first she thought it might harm business, but that did not happen.
“I was apprehensive because I’ve seen other towns in the 1970s try (street) closures and it never worked,” she recalled. “My fiscal year recently ended, and the past year has been better than ever. And we thank our customers for their support for this last year because we hope it continues.
Also choosing not to set up outdoor displays were Chris and Susan Escano, co-owners of Vintage on Mill. He explained that if the parking issues were addressed, the beautification could be successful.
“That’s been my position since day one (of street closure),” Chris said. “I’ve discussed it with City Manager Kiser many times — a very fair guy. They are working on a parking lot three blocks away. But it will not be adequate because we are a retirement community.”
Lazy Dog Chocolatier manager Kira Leitherer expressed disappointment the city would charge a fee for outdoor tables, because she believes the shops did not have a say in the matter.
“It feels like the only businesses who benefit from the closure are the three restaurants on the block,” she said. “We just had a customer tell us he’s no longer shopping here and taking his business to Auburn. We’re a retirement community and that’s what people tend to forget. The closure has alienated some people because of the distance to walk for accessible parking.”
Kiser said the city hopes to have a final design concept ready by the end of the month. Once all the permits for outdoor dining are returned, the $2 fee goes into affect. City staff hopes by mid-October it can make request for proposals for a design/build contractor.
William Roller is a staff writer with The Union. He can be reached at email@example.com
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.
User Legend: Moderator Trusted User