Carbondale is one of many towns in Colorado putting plans in place to help local businesses adjust to the economic effects of COVID-19. The town closed Carbondale’s Main Street between Third and Fourth streets so businesses can give customers space to safely shop and dine.
Some local business owners said the closure is helping, while others said it is bad for business.
“Instead of uniting, I feel like it really divided us,” said Amy Charters, who owns the retail store Lulubelle on the closed section of Main Street.
The town’s plan, which took effect June 11, allows dining tables and clothing racks out into the street. Charters said restaurant owners have seen the benefits while retail stores like hers are losing money. She said that difference is causing tension between local business owners.
“That’s just not a nice feeling when it’s your neighbors and your people you’re working right next to,” Charters said. “I would prefer to have a more equitable solution that makes everybody feel better and gives everybody a shot at surviving.”
Charters’ main concern is the lack of parking in front of her store. Sunday through Thursday, one-lane is open for drivers, delivery trucks and emergency vehicles, and a couple parking spots are available for customers. Even those parking spaces, she said it inconveniences shoppers and keeps them from coming inside her store.
“It has absolutely affected our business,” Charters said. “The dip in sales was dramatic.”
That’s not been the case for Chase Engel, owner of the bar Batch on the same block as Charters’ retail store. He said the bar’s sales have climbed since the closure began. That first weekend the bar fully opened, people had to wait for a table. Engel said that is because customers feel safer dining outdoors.
The street closure, he said, brings foot traffic back to downtown, so all business owners should celebrate the spike in potential customers.
“I think we should all be real happy about trying to get people down there and on main street and together and doing things,” Engel said.
But Charters said foot traffic is down for Lulubelle. When she brought her concerns to the town’s board of trustees, she said they advised her to set up clothing racks in the street, but she said that is not feasible.
“We're operating with one staff member at the moment per day, and in order to bring tables out in the street or clothing racks or whatever, we'd have to have more than one employee and financially that's not an option right now,” Charters said.
Dan Richardson, Carbondale’s mayor, said the plan needed to be drafted and executed fast since the COVID-19 pandemic heavily impacted the economy. He said he knew the plan wasn’t perfect, but did not expect such a difference in opinions from restaurants and retail stores.
“I think initially we thought ‘Oh it’s a no brainer. We should be closing down all the main street. Everybody will spill out there and it’ll work beautifully to give more space,’ but it’s clearly not,” Richardson said. “What we learned is that there are as many opinions as there are businesses on Main Street.”
He said the Main Street closure may not be perfect, but it is a step in the right direction in improving life for local businesses.
“The idea we came up with still seems to be the best approach at this time,” Richardson said. “We may realize that it doesn’t work, but we can change that.”
He said the Carbondale Board of Trustees, along with him and town manager Jay Harrington, will continue to evaluate the plan based on local business owner’s feedback and change things if needed.
The town’s board of trustees is expected to hear feedback from local businesses and discuss the future of the Main Street closure at Tuesday’s board meeting.