Bars and restaurants in Longmont might soon be allowed to seat patrons on Main Street under a proposal that cuts downtown vehicle traffic lanes from four to two.
The idea is seen as a way to boost downtown businesses already suffering because of COVID-19 shutdown orders.
But Mike Christianson, owner of Elite Barbershop, said the move would do just the opposite.
“It could ruin us,” Christianson said. “Parking is bad enough when things are normal in downtown, but now our customers, especially our elderly customers, will have to walk two to three blocks … just to come in here. I don’t think they will be willing to do that.”
The barbershop already loses about 50% of its business when downtown events and festivals shut down Main Street. “But that is just temporary,” Christianson said. “This is more or less permanent.”
The majority — 60% — of 48 respondents to a Longmont Downtown Development Authority survey, however, were more supportive of the idea, on which Longmont City Council will vote Tuesday night.
“Thank you for offering this, as a downtown business this would help me immensely to have more outside space to promote my business during these times,” one survey taker said.
Another commented, “I think the economic health of Downtown Longmont would be greatly improved if we extend the lane closures and ideally close Main Street between Longs Peak and (Third) to create a pedestrian and bike mall. It would make downtown a lot more competitive with off-downtown areas such as Village at the Peaks. Plus, it would allow for additional income opportunities across a swath of independent businesses — artists, musicians, food carts, etc.”
But other business owners are worried like Christianson that the move would create a traffic nightmare and be a serious blow to businesses already hurting from the pandemic.
One survey taker commented, “Problem is my business and others will not survive (three) months if you make traffic worse downtown.”
Another said, “This is the most ridiculous idea I have heard so far. We already have traffic and parking problems downtown during the summer. By implementing this plan you are helping out the restaurants at the expense of all the other businesses!”
The Longmont DDA has been studying the issue of boosting downtown commerce since virus-related shutdowns began in March. On Wednesday, the authority’s board of directors voted unanimously in favor of outdoor seating that allows for social distancing.
The proposal calls for closing outside lanes and reducing traffic to one lane in each direction between Third and Sixth avenues starting in early July and running through September. The closed lanes would be open to shops, restaurants and bars for outdoor shopping, dining and other activities.
Traffic detour routes would be set up on Coffman and Kimbark streets.
City Councilwoman Marcia Martin said she initially backs the idea of street closures. Cities including Boulder and Westminster have permanently shut down their downtown areas without hurting downtown business.
“But I do have questions around implementation details,” Martin said. “I need a few answers in those areas.”
City Council will meet virtually at 7 p.m. Tuesday. The meeting can be watched live through the Longmont's Youtube livestream channel or via Longmont Public Media's livestream. After the meeting, the recorded meeting video can be viewed on Youtube.