Two women take a walk through a quiet downtown Freeport in April, shortly after most businesses closed due to coronavirus. Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

FREEPORT — Freeport town and business officials hope blocking off a portion of Main Street will help breathe a little life into a downtown hurting from the coronavirus pandemic. 

If adopted, Main Street would close to traffic from Howard Place by The Lobster Cooker and Pub, to Bow Street, or Linda Bean’s Maine Kitchen and Topside Tavern, from 8 a.m. Saturday to 8 p.m. Sunday through Labor Day. Portions of Nathan Nye Street and Mill Street would also be closed. 

Detours would include West Street to Depot Street and then to Bow Street. 

The proposal would help restaurants expand outdoor dining and would give people more room to walk, shop and wait in line while COVID-19 social distancing restrictions are in place, Town Planner Caroline Pelletier said Wednesday. 

Officials hope to have the closure in place by Fourth of July weekend, a rapidly approaching deadline that Councilor Sarah Tracy said is “make or break” for the town. 

Freeport has been hit hard by the pandemic, which forced the retail-heavy downtown to effectively close down for months. The 14-day quarantine for people traveling out of state has devastated the hospitality industry, Keith McBride, economic development director said recently, and prolonged limitations on restaurant reopenings for Cumberland County restricted restaurants. 

“We’re looking for different ways to support the business community,” Pelletier said, and to “portray Freeport as a safe place to visit in an outdoor setting.” 

With so few tourists this year, “We need to do something to revitalize Freeport and get people into town,” she added, so the hope is to “start with the locals.”

Town councilors were largely in favor of the proposal Tuesday night, and Council Chairman John Egan said it was an opportunity to help support the business community. 

Councilor Doug Reighley also supported the plan, and said it could even become a way of highlighting the business community yearround, like some of the markets in European cities. 

According to Councilor Tawni Whitney, L.L. Bean is looking at providing cornhole games for people to play on the sidewalks, and Egan suggested lining up live music performances.

It has the potential, Whitney said, to be “a great energy booster for our downtown.” 

According to Kelly Edwards, executive director of Visit Freeport, the plan includes using the L.L.Bean Bootmobiles as a “festive gateway” to the closed off area. Within the space, there will be covered seating areas with sanitization stations, patio furniture and potted plants, and an L.L.Bean pop-up shop selling summer items and gifts. There will be enough space for six to eight Freeport businesses or nonprofits to safely set up a pop-up tent in the area to sell food and other goods.

“The group behind this effort wanted to ensure that visitors to Freeport have plenty of room in the village to ensure a safe, welcoming and enjoyable experience, while allowing businesses to utilize space outside of their storefronts,” Edwards said. 

Feedback surrounding an earlier proposal with a different route and longer closure period was met with mixed reviews from the business community, Pelletier said. 

Many were supportive of the idea, but others were concerned that blocking the street may restrict parking or complicate deliveries and curbside pickup. 

However, Edwards, after fine tuning the plan, the response was mostly positive.

The purpose behind this is to help our businesses, so we fine tuned the closure map several times to make sure that those who expressed concerns would not be affected,” she said in an email. 

There are still some moving pieces to work out before anything can be put in place. 

There will be a public meeting at 4:30 p.m. June 24 for residents, business owners and community members to weigh in on the proposed closure. The cost of any barriers and signs will also need to be calculated. If town officials decide to move forward, they will need to get approval from the Maine Department of Transportation, as Main Street, Route 1, is a state route. 

In Portland, city officials recently voted to block off portions of Dana, Exchange, Milk and Wharf streets to allow shops and restaurants to reopen under social distancing guidelines, the Portland Press Herald reported. 

The Brunswick Downtown Association also considered a similar proposal that would block off parking spaces to create a pedestrian way and expand outdoor dining and retail options. Business owners ultimately did not support the idea because they did not want to further restrict the already limited parking options downtown, and instead opted to spread out on the existing wide sidewalks.


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