Restaurants on Exchange Street hope outdoor dining will be a draw into the cooler fall months. Staff photo

PORTLAND — Restaurateurs on Exchange Street are hoping the outdoor dining success of the summer extends well into the fall.

Two blocks of the street have been closed to traffic since June in an effort to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on restaurants and make it easier for them to provide outdoor dining. The closure, along with those on several other downtown streets, remains in effect until Nov. 1.

Even as the weather gets colder, Andy Gerry, one of the owners of the High Roller Lobster Co., said he thinks people will still be looking for outdoor dining well into the fall. He intends to continue with outdoor service as long as the city permits it.

“I expect people will be eating out later in the year because they feel safer outdoors than inside,”  Gerry said.

The Thirsty Pig is one of the several eateries on Exchange Street that is offering in-street dining as part of a street closure on Exchange Street that goes through the end of next month. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

Gerry and The Thirsty Pig owner Allison Stevens are looking into ways to add heaters or other accommodations to their outdoor dining spaces this fall.

Stevens said this year she has not seen as much of a drop off in business after Labor Day as she has in previous years and she hopes that will continue.

“Optimism is the only things we have left,” she said.

Gerry said the street closure has been great for his business.

“It’s helped keep restaurants and other businesses on the street alive over the summer. Portland has been really close to this for years. A lot of bigger cities have this. It increases people walking around and seeing businesses they wouldn’t see otherwise,” Gerry said.

The street closure, however, has not been good for all businesses. Some merchants over the summer reported it has had a negative impact.

And, it caused one Exchange Street business to close its doors after more than half a century. Rob Sevigny, owner of The Paper Patch greeting card and stationery store, said his customers had difficulty getting to his store.

Rob Sevigny is closing The Paper Patch after 51 years in business. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

“There is no foot traffic at all during the week. This is the oldest shop in the Old Port. I’ve been through good times. I’ve been through bad times, but I’ve never been through a time like this. People can’t get here,” said Sevigny, who has owned The Paper Patch for more than 20 of its 51 years.

Sevigny said he reached out to the city with his concerns in June, joined a petition urging the City Council to rethink the measure and sent letters to councilors to no avail.

“It’s been devastating,” he said.

But Pete Smith, whose wife owns the Uncommon Paws, said the business at the natural pet products store has been OK and he’s glad the street closure has helped nearby restaurants.

Uncommon Paws will move into the The Paper Patch’s former storefront in November, Smith said.

“We face the future of our business with trepidation because of the pandemic, but we are optimistic,” he said.

Gerry said the closure has been great for High Roller Lobster Co.

“It’s helped keep restaurants and other businesses on the street alive over the summer. Portland has been really close to this for years. A lot of bigger cities have this. It increases people walking around and seeing businesses they wouldn’t see otherwise,” Gerry said.

The closure of sections of Exchange Street have allowed restaurants to offer more outdoor dining during the pandemic. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

Both Gerry and Wallace Holmes, front end manager of The Blind Pig Barber Company in Milk Street, said they would like to see this continue next year as well.

“I’d love to see how busier it’d be in a more normal summer,” Holmes said.

While the shop is not offering haircuts outdoors, it has moved its waiting area to a section of Milk Street adjacent to their front door in order to provide social distancing in the barber shop.

Closing off the street to allow for more outdoor dining and retail makes sense, Gerry said, because “Exchange Street is one of the busiest foot traffic streets in the city.”

 

Comments are not available on this story.