KENNETT SQUARE — Street dining returned this weekend to the borough.
However, the opportunity to enjoy a meal on East State Street to support local restaurants is a limited opportunity this year because of an upcoming state-led reconstruction project on Old Baltimore Pike in New Garden Township.
Presently, the street closure, for outside dining and to support local merchants, on the 100 block of East State Street, in between Broad (Route 82) and Union Streets, will continue now until May 16 every Thursday evening from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and from 5 p.m. Fridays until 10 p.m. Sundays.
The street closure allows the downtown restaurants of La Verona, Byrsa Bistro, Portabello's of Kennett Square and Verbena BYOB to offer patrons outdoor dining on the closed section of East State Street, where all the businesses are located, in the heart of the borough.
“For the next four weeks, we’re going to be able to have a good outdoor dining experience,” said Kennett Square Mayor Matt Fetick on Friday. “After that we’re going to be looking at an alternative to take away some of the parking spaces on State Street where we can have extended outdoor dining seven days a week and still keep traffic flowing.”
The mayor said the borough is likely to make an announcement next week on bringing sitting areas to select parking spaces on State Street.
Although the original hope was to offer street dining through the entire spring and summer seasons, due to a major PennDOT construction project nearby on Old Baltimore Pike in New Garden, borough officials soon realized that doing so would hurt local businesses with trucking operations that travel into the community daily.
Kennett Square Police Chief William Holdsworth said the PennDOT reconstruction project is anticipated to last through Labor Day in September.
Due to this project, which shall close a portion of Old Baltimore Pike for three months, there would be no way for businesses in New Garden and elsewhere to travel into the borough for deliveries if State Street were to also be closed, the chief said.
“Every business has deliveries via tracker trailers,” Holdsworth said. “If there is no way to get tracker trailers through, every business suffers, from the restaurants to the mushroom farms.”
Holdsworth added, “Every commodity that we use and enjoy comes via truck.”
Next Saturday, the borough is also planning to restrict a lane of traffic on the 100 block of West State Street, the chief said. This will allow outdoor dining for businesses on the other side of Route 82 and Kennett’s famous clock tower.
“Come and enjoy a more expansive setting over these next four to five weeks,” Holdsworth said. He said when the PennDOT project begins on May 17, there will be additional outdoor dining opportunities in lieu of the street closure that will continue now through May 16 Thursdays through Sundays.
On Easter Sunday, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf eased some restrictions on restaurants, allowing businesses to open their venues at 75 percent capacity in place of 50 percent capacity, which had been in place since January 4.
During the recent holiday season from Thanksgiving through the New Year, all restaurants in the Commonwealth were forbidden from serving patrons inside their restaurants for inside dining.
Local business owners called the move “devastating."
“Some of the inside dining restrictions are starting to loosen up,” the Kennett Square mayor said. He added that doesn’t mean all people feel comfortable going inside restaurants yet.
“Our goal is to work with the merchants and the restaurant owners to provide them and their customers with the best experience that we can,” Fetick said.
The mayor added the borough met with PennDOT to find a solution to keep Kennett Square’s initial plan to allow for consistent weekend road closures on East State Street through now until the summer.
Some people asked PennDOT to delay the project; however, that proved impossible.
Fetick said initial infrastructure on the reconstruction project has already begun.
“They cannot un-ring the bell now,” the mayor said. “We just have to work through it. We are going to create alternatives to make it work,” he added regarding supporting businesses in town.
Further, Fetick said, “We don’t have the lawfully authority to shut down all access to the area.”
Fetick noted that the businesses that are outside of the borough are aware that Kennett Square is keeping the roads open to ensure they can travel through the community this summer, adding these neighboring businesses understand the situation and “are doing what they can to support us.”
The mayor said supporting small businesses right now is “critical.”
Fetick said at the upcoming Borough Council meeting on Monday, officials will discuss plans to permanently remove some parking spaces to add new outdoor tables to expand the sidewalk area of State Street for additional dining services outside.
“We want to encourage people to come out whenever they can,” the mayor said of supporting Kennett Square restaurants and merchants. “It has a big domino effect on the economy.”
"The street closure in Kennett Square last summer was a huge success on many levels," said Sandra Morris, who owns Portabello's of Kennett Square, alongside her husband, Brett Hulbert. "It created a real sense of community, brought people into the borough to dine and shop in a safe socially distant environment."
Still, "It is beyond disappointing that PennDOT would not adjust their construction plans to allow for this to happen again this summer," Morris said on Saturday morning. "We understand that the mayor and borough officials are doing everything they can to come up with alternate solutions."