|Williamstown to Try Outdoor Dining on Spring Street Again Saturday|
|By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff |
02:39AM / Friday, July 10, 2020
|If the weather allows, Spring Street will be closed for dining on Saturday evening.|
UPDATE: The town, in consultation with the Chamber of Commerce, has decided not to attempt the street closure on Saturday, July 18.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Despite the vagaries of Mother Nature and the voices of those who raised concerns about the plan, the town plans to temporarily close Spring Street to vehicles the next two Saturday evenings to allow outdoor dining.
The initiative to help downtown restaurants that do not otherwise have outdoor space to set up tables was first tried on June 27.
Although the weather did not entirely cooperate that night, people who did have a chance to take advantage of the opportunity reacted positively on social media.
Organizers also got positive reactions, according to Jane Patton, the chair of the town's Select Board and vice president of the Williamstown Chamber of Commerce.
"The feedback I heard was mostly positive, even from some folks who had expressed concern in advance,” Patton said. "The restaurants felt like it did bring them business.
"We keep researching ways to do this in the most and least impactful ways possible, if that makes sense -- the most positive and the least negative impacts.”
Spring Street will be closed to cars for driving and parking on July 11 and 18 from 4 to 10 p.m. This will allow businesses one hour for setup from 4 to 5 p.m. and breakdown from 9 to 10 p.m.
Businesses were told in an email from the Chamber to limit their set-up to "the parking areas in front of your business.”
Staff and patrons will be expected to observe social distancing and face covering guidelines from the commonwealth; for diners, that means face coverings should be worn unless seated at a table.
When the idea of closing the road to vehicles was first pitched in the spring, the reaction both on Facebook and in the comments section on iBerkshires.com was mixed, with several residents strongly objecting to the idea that people who live in apartments upstairs from the Spring Street businesses might be cut off because there are no alternate roads to reach some buildings.
Patton said she understands that there will be some people who continue to oppose the plan.
"It's tough to come up with something that every single person is going to feel good about,” she said. "I don't take those feelings lightly, but I also know that streets all over the world, even ones with similar limitations to Spring Street, have managed to get there.
"I think lots of dialogue will help. My philosophy lately has been to listen to with an open mind and open heart, and we'll continue to tweak it until we get it right for most people if not all. That would be the goal.”
Organizers did weigh the option of maintaining one lane for vehicle travel during the outdoor dining period but ultimately decided the risk of a catastrophic accident outweighed the benefit, Patton said. One lane will be kept open during the closure for emergency vehicles only.
One tweak to the plan since June 27 (the road closure was not tried on July 4) is that organizers will make the call on whether to cancel because of weather by noon on Saturday.
Patton said if the hourly forecast during the closure period shows a 50 percent or better chance of rain for any of the hours involved, the street closure and outdoor dining will be canceled. Any cancellation will be announced on the websites for the town and Chamber of Commerce and community-oriented Facebook pages with large local followings.
As she spoke at midday on Thursday, the forecast was calling for a 60 percent chance of rain and possibly heavy downfalls. But a lot can change in 48 hours.
"Truth be told, this Saturday doesn't look great right now, either, but ever since I started working at the [Taconic] golf course, I've become almost immune to weather forecasts,” Patton said. "Today, I was worried about rain, so I put the top up on my car. And it's gorgeous out.”