WINCHESTER - In an effort to bring more foot traffic to the town center and help out restaurants who need space to physically distance customers due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Select Board authorized the closing of Thompson Street on some weeknights and all day Sunday.
Whether it’s working or not depends on who you ask. The Chamber of Commerce wrote in a letter to the board that closing the street could work if retail stores were open during those hours. They also wrote that closing it on Sundays is not helping.
However, members of the Select Board who visited Thompson Street on Sundays (and other days) when it’s closed said it’s rather busy with patrons outside waiting for tables. Therefore, it’s possible the closure of Thompson Street is both working and not working; working for restaurant owners but not for retail shops.
Town Manager Lisa Wong said the original plan for closing Thompson Street involved music and people gathering in large crowds, two things that are hard to accomplish during a time when people should stay six feet apart and wear a mask.
“It’s a good idea to explore,” the Town Manager acknowledged, “but maybe not now.”
Wong noted how the Chamber of Commerce letter includes some contradictions such as how they say closing the street on Sundays isn’t helping even though that seems like the busiest time with the most activity.
Another issue involves parking, which has been scarce at times, especially during the many construction projects ongoing in and around the town center. Closing the street means taking away potentially useful parking spots. This adds to the notion that the closure isn’t working, but Wong admitted the last few weeks aren’t an indicator of the possible success closing the street could bring.
Because so many people seem to have a different opinion on whether the street should remain closed, the Select Board chose to leave it for now and gather more data. Right now, as member Amy Shapiro remarked, they’re only getting anecdotal feedback. This includes her own experience on a recent Thursday where she acknowledged the area was “very busy.”
However, she stressed the town needs “real data,” noting no matter what the board decides “everyone won’t be happy. There’s not a one size fits all solution.”
Wong agreed, adding how “some want closure and some don’t.”
Select Board member Mariano Goluboff, who’s also stated how busy Thompson Street can get, questioned whether the board should close the entire street or just the parking spaces for takeout. He opined the chamber wants the street closed to benefit retailers, which means closing it more often and not less.
Goluboff also noted how hugely successful it’s been for restaurants, so he suggested it would be counter-productive to take those parking spaces away for takeout orders.
With no one in favor of making any drastic changes, Select Board member Susan Verdicchio proposed leaving the street closed and gathering more data. Fellow board member Jacqueline Welch suggested they try and accentuate the closure.
So, it appears Thompson Street will remain closed, at least on Sundays.