KENNETT SQUARE — If not for the decision to close streets and expand outdoor dining in Kennett Square, many small businesses likely will not be in business now, Kennett Square Mayor Matt Fetick said.
Shortly after the pandemic took hold in the spring, Kennett Square officials took action to close down a portion of State Street at Union Street Thursday afternoons until Sunday afternoons in a show of support for restaurant owners and merchants. The move has been overly successful.
"All the feedback I got from restaurant owners and merchants is that is has been incredibly positive," said Fetick. Restaurants said if they didn't get that expanded seating, they would have lost their business. They really needed it."
Leon Spencer, a former mayor and councilman, said he and his wife often patronize the restaurants at the new outdoor dining setup.
"I think it's one of the coolest things we have ever done," Spencer said. "It has enough space where quite a few people took advantage of it. I hope this is something we do next year and in years to come. Clearly, this was the right thing go do."
The decision to close down streets also garnered support from residents who recently responded to a 16-question online survey about Kennett Square. The questions focused on changes in consumer behavior since the onset of the pandemic and identifying the factors that will help people feel most comfortable as they support small businesses. Respondents included residents of the Borough, Kennett Township, and the surrounding area from all different age brackets.
"The data gives Historic Kennett Square, and business owners, a useful barometer of people’s preferences as we plan for the months ahead—and particularly for what the holidays will look like in Kennett Square this year," said Bo Wright, executive director of Historic Kennett Square. "People are understandably, and commendably, cautious and we want to do everything we can to continue to make Kennett Square a safe destination for people to enjoy as they shop and dine.”
Wright said that nearly half of respondents indicated that they will make online purchases more often than they did before the start of the pandemic.
“E-commerce has become increasingly important, and our merchants are responding to that,” Wright said.
According to the survey, open hours on weekdays and weekends, in addition to evening hours, are important to shoppers as well. Now more than ever before, there is no one-size-fits-all experience.
“One of the strengths of small businesses is not just their ability to cater to the needs and comfort levels of each customer, but their passion for offering personalized service, and right now that means taking extra care and precautions to keep everyone safe," said Wright.
Historic Kennett Square has also helped merchants obtain grants to help survive the pandemic. Historic Kennett Square’s Small Business Relief Fund, which we administered in partnership with Square Roots Collective, helped over 60 consumer-facing retail businesses in the Borough and the Township meet expenses and make some of these costly changes and renovations.
In the survey, 94 percent of respondents indicated that they would prefer outside over indoor dining, and spacing tables at least six feet apart was the main factor customers say would make them feel more comfortable dining out.
" This just shows in a small town, we can rally together and support small businesses," Fetick said.
With the colder weather approaching, some merchants are investing in heat lamps. Fetick said he is encouraging residents to order take-out locally to ensure restaurants survive the pandemic.