Parklets serve Brattleboro customers and businesses

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BRATTLEBORO — Spots that used to host cars are now offering outdoor dining and drinking options as a safer alternative during a pandemic.

"We're not losing parking spaces, we're gaining community!" Downtown Brattleboro Alliance said in a marketing email in the middle of July. "Parklets are the darling of community planners and organizers around the world. Brattleboro is joining that party, making sure we use our public spaces to promote vitality and fun in our downtown."

The Select Board approved funding in June to purchase jersey barriers to temporarily place in front of establishments to provide additional open-air space. The project was aimed at supporting local businesses and promoting public health.

After being closed to the public other than for curbside pickup for about four months, Hermit Thrush Brewery co-owner Chris Gagne said his team is "very grateful to be pouring beers again and staying safe."

"The parklet has gone very well so far, we opened up last weekend and I'm happy that we can confidently offer a safe experience for both our staff and customers," he said Wednesday.

Dosa Kitchen on Elliot Street offers seating on a parklet and a patio at the neighboring Peter Havens Restaurant, since Dosa is open during the day and Peter Havens operates at night.

Leda Scheintaub, co-owner of Dosa Kitchen on Elliot Street, reported being "pretty busy." For better or worse, she said, many people are visiting town.

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Dosa is open three days a week for now. Scheintaub said she doesn't plan to reopen indoor seating for "a really long time."

"We're lucky to have outside space and curbside pickup," she said.

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After three establishments withdrew from the program, the town removed some of the barriers on Main Street. Richard French, founder and CEO of The Works Cafe, said his team was an early proponent of parklets but ended up opting out.

"I feel really badly because Stephanie did a lot of heavy lifting and a lot of hard work, and so did the Select Board in being creative but we blew it," he said, adding that his team wasn't initially thinking about the parklets from the customer's perspective.

French said parallel parking spots on Main Street and social distancing protocols left space for only one or two tables; the barriers reduced parking options for pickup customers; and tents could not be set up to block the sun due to configurations of the parklet. He also cited loud noise associated with the roadway being frequently traveled by tractor trailers and logging trucks.

A parklet in the Harmony Lot behind the cafe would provide a better ambience, French suggested while also noting that his establishment already had outdoor dining spaces.

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The town was asked to consider making an open "community dining room space" in that lot, Town Manger Peter Elwell said, but "we decided against that because it would be shared space that no one would be accountable for keeping clean." He said it is possible to set up a parklet in space adjacent to Arkham but the other side of the lot, behind The Works, hasn't been considered.

"There is funding to do more parklets," said Stephanie Bonin, DBA's executive director. "We're waiting on stores, restaurants and people to want them. That's just the delicate balance of having enough revenue to have them come back and all of those issues that are very present right now."

Bonin said Hermit Thrush and Elliot Street Fish, Chips & More made their own artwork for the parklets. The artists behind the public "Ask the River" installation designed Duo's, and Dosa's was done by Terry Sylvester and the Brattleboro Area Interfaith Group.

"We're slowly starting to program the parklets," Bonin said. "The idea of parklets and placemaking is to use these public spaces in a new way and also maximize their use."

From 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday, West River Fiddlers will perform at Elliot Street Fish, Chips & More.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com and at @CMaysBR on Twitter.


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