WINCHESTER - In an attempt to bring additional foot traffic to the downtown area, Winchester’s Select Board closed down Thompson Street (in the area of Main Street and Mystic Valley Parkway) on Thursday, Friday and Saturday night and all day Sunday. However, according to Chamber of Commerce President Craig Rabe, it didn’t seem to work.
This week, he told the Select Board the chamber wasn’t seeing as much “use of the road as we hoped.” He added the town needs “to do more to alert people.”
Closing the street has only, in Rabe’s opinion, cost the town needed parking spaces. Downtown business owner Artie Bennos echoed those thoughts, reminding the board how the town has lost “parking spaces everywhere.”
He called Winchester a destination shopping area where people come, do their business and leave. He did not feel as though people spent time walking around Winchester’s downtown. Therefore, he claimed taking any parking spaces “hamstrings small businesses.”
As a counter to Bennos’ argument, Select Board Chair Michael Bettencourt said his family will park downtown, shop, walk around, and get ice cream. He added how everyone is a different.
Bennos, though, implored the board to give downtown businesses “adequate parking.”
Another downtown business owner, Valentina Taliaferro, also stressed the importance of parking in the town center. She said all business owners could use parking spaces, especially with the Waterfield lot and half the Aberjona lot closed. She argued Thompson Street wasn’t even being used when the town closes it.
For the most part, the Select Board closed Thompson Street to allow restaurants in the area adequate space to socially-distance their customers while capacity inside remains limited. With more space available outdoors, restaurants like First House Pub, Black Horse Tavern and Lucia can better serve customers and keep them six-feet apart.
Unfortunately, as Rabe noted, most retail shops in the area are closed when the street is, so they can’t take advantage of it.
On the other hand, Select Board member Mariano Goluboff suggested closing Thompson Street more often, such as all day Saturday. He said he’s seen people down there walking and riding their bikes. He also couldn’t understand how the town lost parking when, as Rabe said, most businesses in the area close before the street does.
One proposal, suggested by Taliaferro, involved moving the Farmers Market there on Sundays to take advantage of the open space with the street closed. Currently, the Farmers Market has moved to the Jenks Center parking lot to allow patrons more room to socially-distance.
Regardless, it appears the town hasn’t done a great job of promoting when exactly the street shuts down, as even Taliaferro said she was confused when the town is going to close it. Therefore, at least according to business owners, the town needs to make changes.
“We’re all dying for business,” Taliaferro argued.
Even Select Board member Amy Shapiro felt “we can tweak what we’re doing.” She asked what periods of time were most detrimental to businesses and said the town’s plan didn’t have to be “one size fits all.”
So, the board knows there’s work to be done, as Bettencourt pointed out, “we didn’t promote the closure well enough.” What’s the next step, then?
It seems like it might involve a full meeting with the Chamber of Commerce at some point. As Rabe said, “we want to help, but we don’t want to lose spaces,” so questions need answering, such as what’s the best way to help and can the town close Thompson Street without negatively affecting local businesses.
Select Board member Jacqueline Welch said the initial idea in closing the street involved gathering data. With a few weeks worth of data available, she said the board has to “figure out the next step as we analyze the data.”
For now, it appears Thompson Street will remain closed starting at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, then all day on Sunday.