Supporting our Local Businesses
By Gregory T. Federspiel
There are many impacts of the pandemic. Our local businesses have suffered a body blow as they were forced to close for the spring. While they are now allowed to open, making up for the lost income is a tall order. All of us can help by refocusing many of our purchases locally.
The Town researched options for providing financial assistance to local businesses. Larger communities have Community Development Block Grants that come from the federal government that can be used to assist local businesses, but Manchester is not eligible for these funds. There are competitive grants that become available, but we struggle to score very high on these given our socio-economic composition. State law prohibits use of local tax dollars in direct aid to local entities.
We have turned to other means of assisting our local businesses. One small measure has been to maintain information about business operations during the pandemic on the Town website. A more visible effort has been allowing the use of on-street parking spaces for outdoor dining. We quickly mobilized to provide this once the state allowed such temporary use, using what materials we had on hand (the concrete jersey barriers.)
Utilizing the parking spaces for local restaurants means less available on-street parking for the customers of retailers in Town. To help offset the impact of this, the Town is creating more non-resident parking with 3-hour limits at Masconomo park. We are also promoting the use of the large parking area behind Town Hall, a short walk to local shops. We will be marking the on-street parking stalls where space for two cars is provided to help ensure someone does not park in the middle of the two spaces.
Additionally, we are investigating the use of portable barriers for denoting the on-street dining locations allowing there to be parking in these spots when the restaurants are not serving customers. We need to be mindful of the trade-off between barriers that offer a high degree of protection verses portability. It is not practical to be moving the jersey barriers with heavy equipment daily.
Currently 7 parking spots have been converted to outdoor dining areas. Could each restaurant get by with using just one spot now that they are allowed to have limited indoor dining? Retailers would prefer this, but restaurant owners know that many patrons prefer being outdoors while the virus threat still exists. Finding the right balance here remains a challenge and requires continued creative thinking.
At this past Monday’s Selectmen meeting (7/6/20) Cape Ann Chamber Director Ken Riehl provided an update on the plans for a modified Festival by the Sea this year. The hope is a scaled back version of the Festival can take place at the end of August and this year there will be an extra emphasis on ways the Festival can support our local businesses. An update on the planning for the Festival will be presented to the Selectmen at their August 3 meeting. A final decision on the Festival taking place will be dependent on which phase of the COVID Re-opening plan the state has authorized.
The Selectmen are committed to assisting all businesses in town as best they can. We are in unchartered waters as we all try to develop reasonable responses to the challenges the pandemic has created. Some of our responses will be better than others, but with experimentation and adaptation, we certainly aim to eventually get things right. The Board will continue to explore what fine-tuning we can do regarding parking and business promotion. They plan on holding a special meeting the week of the 13th to discuss implementing further efforts. Your ideas and input are welcome.