Bath blocked off parking spaces on one side of Front Street so local businesses and restaurants could expand onto the sidewalk. Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

BATH — Bath is allowing businesses along a portion of Front Street to expand onto the sidewalk, but some business owners aren’t convinced it’ll make a difference to their businesses amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Parking spaces on the Renys side of Front Street between Centre and Elm streets have been barricaded so businesses can expand onto the sidewalk and pedestrians have more space to walk while physically distancing themselves. The changes will last until Oct. 31, according to a report from the city.

Businesses on Elm Street and the Centre Street Bakery side of Centre Street can apply to expand their business into a parking space in front of their storefront to form a “parklet.”

“It’s my hope the changes in the downtown do even more to support local business owners,” Peter Owen, Bath’s city manager wrote in a statement. “It’s important that we take every measure to support them; they represent the livelihood of our friends, family, and neighbors.”

Owen said the city chose to open the western side of Front Street because the eastern side has narrower sidewalks and fewer businesses that would expand onto the sidewalk. However, he said the city is in contact with Bath Brewing Company, which might expand outside.

Picnic and bistro tables also will be placed throughout the downtown to give patrons of curbside restaurants a place to dine, according to a statement from the city.

“As we prepare to make these changes, we recognize that health and safety precautions are paramount,” Owen wrote. “We will be sanitizing high-touch surfaces in the downtown, like benches and tables.”

Amanda McDaniel, executive director of Main Street Bath, said the initiative is the city’s way of encouraging people to come downtown where they can shop or eat while staying outside where they may feel more comfortable.

“We’re not encouraging gatherings,” McDaniel said. “We’re encouraging people to support local businesses.”

Despite the changes, some downtown businesses aren’t convinced the initiative will increase their profits.

Michelle Tibbetts, owner of Bohemian Rose on Front Street, said she usually puts a few racks of clothing outside her store in the summer, but she doesn’t think she’ll put more outside despite the additional space because she needs to be cautious of the sun fading the garments.

“I think it’s great that Main Street Bath is trying different things,” said Tibbetts. “I don’t know if it’s going to work, but at least we’re trying something different.”

She said regardless of whether she sells her clothing outside, widening the pedestrian space will increase foot traffic for all businesses.

“I think it’ll have a bigger impact on restaurants,” said Tibbetts. “It doesn’t matter so much for me … but it’ll add energy to the downtown.”

Tibbetts estimated her business is down about 60% compared to this time last year.

Colleen Whitaker, owner of children’s clothing store Pitter Patter Inc. said she doesn’t think she’s going to put merchandise outside because dust tends to blow up from the shore of the Kennebec River to her storefront and she doesn’t want her clothing to get soiled. However, she’s excited about the city’s initiative because of the potential it holds for local restaurants.

“A strong Front Street helps everybody. … I’m rooting for our restaurants,” said Whitaker. “I know we need to try something new. It’s a changed world and we need to change with it.”

Whitaker said she doesn’t know how her profits have decreased due to the pandemic because “Nothing is the same so there’s no reason to look at [the numbers].”

Robert Whisenant, owner of Bruno’s Pizzaria on Front Street, said he put three to four raised platforms on the sidewalk to make the sidewalk level. He said he’s able to place four two-top tables on the sidewalk, but that won’t make a noticeable difference to his profits.

Whisenant’s restaurant also has an outdoor patio on the back of the restaurant that’s able to accommodate 44 people.

Overall, he estimated business is down about 20% compared to last year, but said business is on the upswing as the state’s economy slowly restarts as tourists enter the state again.

“It’s a nice gesture from the city, and I’d rather have it than not have it, but if the governor decides to close indoor dining, those tables aren’t going to support the restaurant,” he said.

Gov. Janet Mills allowed restaurants across the state to open last month after indoor dining was closed due to the state’s increasing number of coronavirus cases.

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