New Hope Borough Council has formed a new committee to help local businesses sort out all the issues surrounding their phased reopening during the coronavirus emergency.
Committee members Laurie McHugh, Ken Maisel, and Council President Connie Gering hosted three virtual roundtables ahead of Bucks County’s advance into the yellow phase, which allowed for the limited reopening of many businesses. Merchants and restaurateurs voiced their concerns and suggestions for a smoother transition under Pennsylvania’s three-phase plan.
“The constraints of social distancing are a serious burden for the small boutiques, cozy cafes and boisterous night spots that are the heart of New Hope,” said Gering. “But the creative energy we heard from business owners and managers gives me confidence that we can get through this, and the reopening committee is focused exclusively on getting the job done.”
Restricted occupancy for retail businesses, along with outdoor-only restaurant service – two conditions under the yellow phase – are especially challenging for New Hope businesses, Gering pointed out. The committee is looking at parking changes, increased signage, restroom availability, and other measures the borough can undertake to help shops and restaurants get back on their feet.
“There’s going to be a lot of experimentation, a lot of give-and-take.” Gering said. “Should we dedicate curb space for take-out and pickup orders? Can we expand outdoor dining into the street without interfering with curbside pickup for nearby merchants? It’s going to take a lot of creativity to make the best of this.”
One recent experiment — the closing of West Mechanic Street to vehicular traffic on weekends — has not been greeted with universal applause.
“I have owned my shop on Mechanic Street for the past 13 years, and I was not happy when I heard that they were closing the street for one restaurant that doesn’t even open until 5 p.m. and one bar that has their own entire outdoor drinking space, without even asking the shopkeepers on the street,” complained Meshell Kimbel, owner of God Save the Qweens at 13 W. Mechanic St. “When you close a street, especially with bright orange barricades and a ‘road closed’ sign, you can kiss business goodbye. Don’t make it any harder for us than it already is.”