FRONT ROYAL — The Town Council on Monday was presented a petition signed by 18 business owners and residents who oppose the town’s decision to close Main Street to vehicles every weekend.
The town began closing Main Street to vehicular traffic in May to assist business operations amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, restaurants have expanded seating into the street.
The closures stretch from Blue Ridge Avenue to Town Hall while Chester Street also has been partially closed.
Kelly Walker, owner of The Studio-A Place for Learning, said during Monday’s Town Council meeting that she applauds the town’s effort to help restaurants but the Main Street closure is now doing more harm than good. She said perhaps closing the street to traffic once per month would be a possible compromise “where we all share a theme and try to bring people downtown and be enthusiastic about downtown.”
She added that there are not enough shopping opportunities on Main Street to justify closing the road for people to walk and shop. She noted there are about seven businesses “where people can actually go in and out and purchase something that’s not a restaurant,” which “is not enough to close the street.”
“We’ve got to compromise, we’ve got to listen to everybody. There’s so many different types of businesses and different reasons why people have their business on Main Street…We’ve had too many businesses already close during this pandemic. I’d hate to see another small business close, but we’re going to see more if we don’t do something soon,” Walker said.
Inna Kolesnik, the owner of Nicolle’s Jewelry Designs, noted that parking availability has already been an issue downtown and customers regularly relay their difficulties in finding parking spots. She added that the Main Street closures eliminate 28 parking spots, making it all the harder to find a spot. She said: “it’s time to open Main Street for all businesses, not only restaurants” and “I wish the town would communicate with more local businesses about important decisions they are making that might affect us.”
Kolesnik also pointed out that many people live off Main Street and the closures could impede emergency vehicles’ response times.
Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick said via telephone that he thinks about the closures every day and that nothing is set in stone. He noted that seven businesses signed the petition, which is “seven too many.” He added that the town has heard from business owners who have a positive view of the closures.
“We’re constantly trying to evaluate and re-evaluate in order to find the most optimal situation for the businesses. The goal is to promote economic growth and business recovery in that area,” Tederick said.
As of right now, Tederick said the Town Council has given him the authority to keep Main Street closed to vehicles over weekends until pandemic-related restrictions are lifted.
“There is some very good perspectives as to the impacts of businesses. From a personal prospective, I’m a big property rights person and I have to seriously weigh if the closure of Main Street is truly negatively impacting a business...That weighs very heavily on me personally because I don’t believe government should do anything that’s going to hurt or hinder a business,” Tederick said.
Tederick added the Town Council may discuss the matter in a work session next week.
Also on Monday, the Town Council:
• Welcomed Tim Wilson, the new director of Community Development and Planning.
• Approved a COVID-19 preparedness and response plan for employees.
• Approved a deed of dedication to accommodate construction of a slip lane at the corner of 17th Street and Shenandoah Avenue.
• Approved the first reading of a five-year, non-exclusive franchise and pole attachment agreement with Lumos Networks Inc. for the right to construct and operate a fiber optic telecommunications system.
• Recognized Finance Director B.J. Wilson for his receiving a Government Finance Officers Association excellence in financial reporting award.