They’re calling it “Southampton in the Streets.”
This Saturday night, Southampton Village officials will close Main Street and Jobs Lane to vehicle traffic, and create a pedestrian-only thoroughfare for an evening of shopping and dining.
The Village Board voted Tuesday night to begin a pilot program that closes the streets, beginning this Saturday, and then, depending on how it works out, on subsequent Fridays and Saturdays, from 6:30 to 11:30 p.m.
Southampton Village Mayor Jesse Warren announced the pilot program Monday night via Instagram. “If this goes well,” he said in the post, “we can expand it to include arts and culture components. I invite you to see how this unfolds.”
Back in April, explained board member Mark Parash, who coined the event’s moniker, he and colleague Kimberly Allan, the board’s liaison to the Business Revitalization Committee, started to consider strategies for helping local businesses suffering from the NY PAUSE shutdown.
“We were looking for ways to make up the lost revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Shannon Willey, the chairwoman of the committee said.
Mr. Parash recalled Southampton Fest last year, when Jobs Lane was closed down for an all day festival.
“It was really positive, and people who came to see it, really enjoyed it,” he said. “As we started to go through the COVID-19 crisis, the question was ‘How do we think outside the box and engage business owners so they can capture business?’”
“Trustees Parash and Allen visited every business,” board member Andrew Pilaro explained. “They’ve been working really hard the last two weeks on this.”
Earlier this month, as outdoor dining was allowed when phase two began, the board voted to create temporary permits for outdoor dining at restaurants and for retail establishments, allowing the use of portions of the sidewalk for tables or wares.
“We thought, ‘People can’t come in to the store, let’s bring the store to the people,’” board member Richard Yastrzemski related. Speaking to this weekend’s event, he added, “Store owners are for it, and that’s all we need to know.”
Members of the committee surveyed area businesses and, according to Ms. Willey, “the top concern was safety.”
The next two priorities involved staying in business and being able to pay rent, she said.
As phases of the state’s reopening plan commenced, she said the committee “bandied about lots of different ideas.”
Outdoor dining was the main focus. Ms. Allan and Mr. Parash “went door to door” explaining the temporary permitting process, Ms. Willey said, and “from there, we thought, ‘How do we expand on this?’ … Trustee Allan checked with other towns and villages, like Greenport. They shared their input and this pilot came from that.”
“We saw what other municipalities were doing,” Mr. Parash said, “and we wanted to create a safe pedestrian zone that lets merchants attract business.”
The committee and the two lawmakers, Ms. Willey said, “got lots of businesses involved and we were able to raise concerns and they were addressed by the engineer.” She feels closing the two roads will be “less disruptive” than other ideas, like using parking spaces for dining.
Mr. Parash agreed.
“We felt shutting down the road was the easiest way,” he said.
Additionally, Ms. Willey pointed out the street closure allows for increased social distancing “so everyone can feel safe.”
Mr. Parash met with a traffic engineer, police, and the village department of public works to figure out the logistics of the pilot program. Village Administrator Russell Kratoville said the board focused, during discussions with police and the DPW, on both traffic and pedestrian flow, eager to see how the plan works in advance of the Fourth of July weekend.
“We’ve been figuring out the logistics yesterday and today,” Ms. Allen said Tuesday, because, although the idea has been under consideration for several weeks, “we decided to do it on very short notice.”
Beyond the pilot program, business owners who apply for the temporary permits to use the sidewalks have to describe the layout of tables or wares to depict the flow of customers and pedestrians through their area.
In addition to giving restaurants the chance to use the expanded space, village shops and boutiques will, too, through the temporary permits and during the weekend’s pilot program.
“Not every retail will want to take advantage, but at least the opportunity is there,” said Ms. Willey, who owns Sea Green design on Jobs Lane.
Under the coronavirus executive orders, she noted customers can’t be packed into stores, but the stores could expand their hours. She said she is looking forward to testing the waters this weekend.
The committee was formed last fall to strategize methods for encouraging downtown businesses. It’s about “enhancing the experience” of visiting Southampton Village, Ms. Willey said.
“This is not a festival, but a means to encourage more outside dining and a welcoming atmosphere for our residents to safely stroll, dine, shop, and enjoy while maintaining appropriate and safe social distancing with a larger area,” Ms. Allen summarized.
She listed activities proposed as of Tuesday morning: Southampton Arts Center will have live music on the lawn along with a sculpture exhibit, there will be designated chalk art areas for children, a local food truck will park on Jobs Lane and a popular DJ will spin family friendly tunes on Main Street.
“The designated area for chalk art idea came from Kathy Bishop on our youth committee,” Ms. Allen said.
“The pilot program is a collaborative effort between the board and village businesses,” Mr. Parash informed. Masks will be a must, he said, adding, “it’s up to merchants and restaurateurs to do what they do best … If it’s deemed a good beginning, we can build on it from there.”
“We’ve seen, with the opening of outdoor dining, there’s been a nice little energy, a freedom feeling again,” Mr. Parash said, offering, “It’s fun to do something you never did before.” A restaurant owner himself, he observed that having to change the way he operates “made me a better businessman.”
At first, Mr. Parash suggested having the event on Saturday, but Mayor Warren wondered, “Why not both nights?”
“I want to encourage the board to do this as much as possible,” the mayor said Tuesday. That night, members agreed to just a Saturday night launch, leaving the opportunity to go to two nights per week, if this week goes well.
Mr. Pilaro said he suggested calling the event “Saturday Night Live” because rather than virtual meetups or bringing takeout meals home, after three months of shutdown, “You can actually see people live.”