Greenwich began its first stage of transforming Greenwich Avenue to an open air pedestrian mall by closing off two blocks to vehicular traffic on June 2.
Jersey barriers were erected at the intersection of Havemeyer (by Starbucks) and by Fawcett Place (by Richards). As a result, Grigg Street, a one-way street accessed via Greenwich Avenue, was no longer a through street.
Residents of Greenwich, and judging from the license plates, many New Yorkers, have been flocking to restaurants on the bottom of the Ave for outdoor dining at Mediterraneo, Abis, Harvest, South Bay, East End, Putnam Restaurant, Little Beet Table and others.
Last Friday the town announced that it would allow sidewalk shopping, (not to be confused with the Chamber of Commerce’s annual sidewalk sales days) effective immediately and through Sept 7.
At the June 11 Board of Selectmen meeting, new business included modifications to the temporary closure to the bottom two blocks of Greenwich Avenue based on merchant feedback.
“Greenwich Avenue has been really a lot of fun. People are loving it,” said First Selectman Fred Camillo. “We’re going to be adjusting it a little bit, but lots of important, significant exciting changes – some of them on a permanent basis on the way to the Avenue. The money is still in the budget to do a bump-out on Lewis Street.”
“The concerns were were having were coming from just a few merchants,” he said, adding that even if 75% are doing well, it would be important to consider the other 25%.
Ben Branyan, town administrator, proposed removing barriers at the intersection Havemeyer and Arch Street, and moving the controlled access for emergency vehicles and deliveries to the block south of Grigg Street.
Instead he suggested erecting “nodes” or “bump outs” for restaurants that had filed applications for outdoor dining.
Also, Fawcett Place would be reopened, but just one-way for traffic to exit Greenwich Ave.
Grigg Street would be restored to its prior one way status – all “to address concerns of businesses regarding delivery issues, parking and customer access.”
However, not all businesses on Greenwich Avenue are pleased with the changes.
Scott Mitchell, owner of Richards at 359 Greenwich Ave, said the new pattern was creating traffic backups.
He questioned why the town should keep the lower part of the Ave closed to cars when there was positive feedback about how the top of the Avenue is open to automobile traffic but restaurants are operating with the nodes successfully.
Mr. Camillo said the town had listened to merchants. “By doing this modification and stopping at Grigg Street, it took care of all of those including people on Grigg St with concerns.”
He said drivers are being allowed to turn from Railroad Ave onto Greenwich Ave into a cordoned off lane to access parking.
“Some merchants who are not restaurants had their furniture out and were inviting people to come over with a drink and sit on their furniture,” Camillo added.
Mr. Mitchell said moving the closure from Havemeyer and Arch to Grigg Street would simply push traffic down a block.
“People come down Greenwich Avenue and don’t know what to do. I worry you’re taking that challenge of traffic backup and pushing it down another block,” he said.
Margo O’Brien, daughter of Diane’s Books owner Diane Garrett said parking is key to the book store’s success.
“Without full parking restored we don’t have a hope of surviving this,” she said. “Even with the full restoration of Greenwich Ave as it was, our customers would not find parking, give up on parking and order their books on Amazon.”
O’Brien said Diane’s Books had sent the Selectmen a letter suggesting a parking garage be built. She said commuters often fill the spots in the nearest municipal parking lot.
“If our customers cannot get to us, we will close down. We were mandated to close down for two months. That was extremely financially difficult for us. Now, with reduced parking, any pedestrian closure of the Avenue takes away parking. Any parking that is reduced means that the viability of our business is jeopardized. It’s that stark. Our rent is $11,500. And a book costs $20. Do the math. We’re talking about survival. It’s so grim for us right now.”– Margo O’Brien, Diane’s Books
Even prior to the partial closure of Greenwich Avenue, O’Brien said customers had complained about shortage of parking. Diane’s Books is one of the only remaining independent bookstores in town.
Camillo arranged for the Selectmen to visit Grigg Street in person the next day.
“We need to see not only what we can do temporarily to help these businesses, but what we can do permanently to enhance the look and feel of our downtown,” Camillo said.
He said the town was still considering a trolley that might run every 30 minutes from Town Hall to Greenwich Avenue for residents.
The modifications to Greenwich Ave were approved unanimously and put into place the next day.