BERLIN — Over the last several years as the various events and street fairs have become popular enough to draw hundreds or even thousands to town regular street closures have become commonplace and Berlin has settled into a pattern for cordoning off specific streets for designated amounts of time. The process has become nearly automated both at the Town and State level. But all that will likely change in the coming months.
In the past, street closures have usually began at the corner of Jefferson and Bay streets and run north along Main Street, usually ending at the Municipal Parking lot near the Berlin Farmers Market. Gail Lewis, who owns the building at the corner of South Main Street and Jefferson Street that houses the Water’s Edge Gallery, MR Ducks, and Abigail’s, this week asked the Town Council to consider including South Main Street as part of the closure.
The last several months have seen a significant retail expansion in the South Main Street area. While the area beyond the Water’s Edge Gallery used to have one retail space — Not Just Toys — it now has many more.
“There are seven businesses south of the Atlantic Hotel that are totally shut out of these events,” Lewis said.
In addition to the Berlin Visitors Center, which houses the Chamber of Commerce and several independent artist studios, NEST recently opened in the Donaway Building and the former offices of Donaway Furniture next to NEST and across from the Chamber is expected to transform into retail soon as well.
The difficulty is that the multi-point intersection that includes Jefferson, William, Bay, Broad and Main streets wasn’t chosen at random. The Maryland State Highway Authority (SHA) is the entity responsible for approving road closures.
The reason it has been so easy for the Town to secure closures almost at will over the last decade or so is that, by making the closure begin at Jefferson Street, the Town required no alternate routes for traffic to both get in and out of town for the events or for those through-travelers who wished to bypass the event altogether.
Berlin Police Chief Arnold Downing, was cautious in his support of the proposal. In addition to concerns about establishing a safe and also an efficient detour route, Downing worried that the off-Main Street businesses would seek similar closures.
Mayor Gee Williams assured him that there was a difference between extending the closure along Main Street and making the town completely inaccessible and that the Council would be sympathetic to that.
Street closure solutions, Downing pointed out, go beyond just establishing a safe and efficient detour route. For example, during tonight’s Berlin Christmas Parade the parking lot both at Donaway’s and the Berlin Visitors Center will provide much needed parking for an event that tends to be traffic heavy.
Olive Mawyer, Executive Director of the Berlin Chamber of Commerce, agreed with Downing. She pointed out that, in addition to the retail spaces along South Main Street there were doctor’s offices and other service businesses that required both access to and the retention of their parking lots for their customers’ use.
While he understood these difficulties, Williams wasn’t terribly worried about overcoming them.
“Quite frankly, I’m ecstatic that we have this problem,” he said.
He and the Council charged Town Administrator Tony Carson and Director of Community and Economic Development Michael Day to work with Arnold and Mawyer to propose a solution that would allow for the potential closing of South Main Street while addressing the concerns of both the SHA and non-retail businesses in the area.
The two agreed that the challenge was something they could overcome and will return with a proposal for the council to consider.