CommunityLifeStyle

Hendersonville’s Main Street might be pedestrian only on weekends

By Pete Zamplas

People eating at an outdoor restaurant patio
Main Street in Hendersonville might soon return to outdoor dining like this. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Hendersonville – The City of Hendersonville entered this week on the verge of closing mile-long Main Street‘s vehicular traffic on weekends as early as this Memorial Day weekend, to provide downtown businesses extra retail space on the sidewalk and street.

The goal is to expand seating area and revenue, for more patrons so they can spread apart to abide by stronger health standards in light of social distancing, officials said.

Many more area retail businesses are back in operation but taking greater health precautions, since May 8. That is when Gov. Roy Cooper’s Executive Order 138 kicked in for at least two weeks — to 5 pm this Friday, May 22.

Once phase two starts, restaurants are expected to be able to resume serving on-site – and that is when the city wants expanded space for them. But if other states’ actions are a guide, look for eateries to be allowed no more than either 50 or 25 percent fire code capacity indoors — and with social distancing required outdoors. Currently, eateries in N.C. are limited to take-out, curbside pickup or delivery.

Kilwin’s candy and ice cream at 506 N. Main was noticeably very busy this past weekend as take-out orders picked up, now that more other downtown businesses are open and draw visitors. Kilwin’s reopened May 1, limiting to seven patrons at a time ordering inside.

Customers Steven and Jen Scroggs’s children delighted seeing the array of sweets Sunday. Oliver, 2, from his stroller sharply pointed to the chocolates he wanted.

“We’ve been stuck at home so long,” said Mr. Scroggs, a busy landscaper. He is relieved more family activities are now allowed, such as in parks. “Young kids need to get out.”

Mark and Lisa Klebauskas strolled down Main with ice cream. She feels a slight “sense of normalcy.”

Midway on Main, a few customers were briefly at tables outside Mezzaluna Brick Oven and Tap House waiting for take-out. If the state ushers in phase two Friday, those tables might again be hopping with diners.

Church Services Indoors

As restaurants wait for latitude, churches won a major battle. A federal court in North Carolina on Saturday undid, for now, the ban on indoor church worship in the state during the COVID-19 pandemic — until further examining the issue. On Sunday worshippers were back in many area churches. Previously, they could worship only outdoors  — in groups of ten or fewer people.

Governor Roy Cooper does not plan to appeal the ruling, his spokesperson Ford Porter said. Instead, the state “urge houses of worship and their leaders to voluntarily follow public health guidance, to keep their members safe.” This includes “social distancing” of ideally staying at least six feet from others.

Health Precautions

Our health experts continue to warn that large groups sitting together inside for long periods of time are much more likely to cause the spread of COVID-19,” Porter stated.

Already, 74 businesses in Henderson County signed a SafeHendo Pledge to take government-required sanitary precautions, city spokesperson Allison Nock said. These include intense and frequent cleansing, staff wearing facial coverings and encouraging customers to do so. Some businesses strictly require masks. More info is at lovehendo.com.

“I’m taking the #safehendo pledge not only to keep my employees and customers safe,” BeeHive Resale owner Chrissy Filka said, “but to make sure that North Carolina continues to flatten the curve” on number of COVID-19 cases.

Close Main Traffic?

Closing Main Street vehicular traffic for special activities happens normally for many festivals in Hendersonville, and its summer music series. Those events are in jeopardy, with health concerns of large gatherings.

Cancelled is the annual Garden Jubilee festival along Main on Memorial Day (this) weekend. Instead, people are encouraged to patronize nurseries and orchards — which have been open — on May 22-25.

City Council looks to finalize an Open Streets variation of the Open Main Street/Love Hendo proposal, to take effect once the state allows on-site dining. Council tackled the issue at a budget session May 8 then in more detail in a special meeting Monday, May 18 — past The Tribune press time.

A consensus of support was from city officials who spoke May 8. Councilmember Jerry Smith calls the plan “awesome.” New colleague Lyndsay Simpson likes “rolling with this on Memorial Day.”

City Downtown Economic Development Director Lew Holloway on May 8 outlined the Downtown Committee Executive Team’s plans for on-street dining, and perhaps also merchant displays. This expands merchants’ use of some sidewalk during the Apple Festival. 

Street space is also needed for them, he said. “Expanded outdoor dining just on sidewalks with four foot of space for retailers leaves less room for pedestrian traffic, making social distancing more difficult.” He wants it “as safe as possible.”

Holloway said closing off Main would likely be tried for a month. Many business owners want it through October, the tourist season. On-street outdoor dining would be when Main Street is off-limits to vehicles — such as Friday nights through Sundays.

Free-standing restaurants could get to provide fewer on-site parking spaces than usual, diverting some for outdoor dining. Smith suggested businesses throughout the city get such a break.

Businesses within a block of Main, along avenues, are harder to close off. Holloway noted the city’s right of way is half as much there (50 feet) as along Main. Yet he suggested, “We could close some of the avenues” for greater foot traffic.

His letter to merchants noted their debate over hours, concern over the loss of parking spaces, and lack of a mandate to him. A shuttle service is an option. He said some prefer evenings or weekdays to all weekend for a pedestrian-only Main. He said, “No option is universally favored, based
on responses.”

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