BAR HARBOR — A proposal to close parts of downtown streets to traffic this summer to allow restaurants and retail stores to use some sidewalk and street space met with unanimous support Tuesday from the Town Council.
Police Chief Jim Willis and other town department heads are set to discuss the idea and present a detailed proposal to the council.
The idea was put forward by Thirsty Whale Tavern owners Heather Sorokin and Basil Eleftheriou Jr. after consulting with other downtown business owners.
The 10 restaurants on Cottage Street between Main Street and Rodick Street “have a small footprint,” they wrote in a letter to councilors, and “removing tables and/or bar seating to accommodate social distancing will have a significant impact in our ability to do business.”
Also, they wrote, “the smaller capacity of each restaurant will naturally create an increase in customers taking out food and a need for a safe place to eat it.”
During the council meeting, Sorokin stressed that the proposal was not meant to be exclusive to that part of Cottage Street, or to restaurants.
Peter Hastings, one of the owners of the Acadia Hotel on Mount Desert Street and the Ivy Manor Inn on Main Street, also wrote to support the proposal, saying closing roads from, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. would “create a festive village feel.”
“Bar Harbor is the tourism industry leader in Maine,” he wrote. “We should continue to adapt and show other communities a path forward.”
Councilors pointed to a similar plan from Tampa, Fla., to temporarily allow businesses to “expand their business footprint into the public right-of-way” to allow for more social distancing.
Fogtown Brewing Company is set to open a tasting room in a storefront space in the Criterion Theatre building on Cottage Street this summer, on one of the blocks being considered for conversion to pedestrian-only.
Expanding into Bar Harbor has been part of the plan for the Ellsworth-based company for some time, owner Jon Stein told the Islander Monday.
Some food will be available, but it will be takeout only until dine-in service is allowed again.
“We’re a small business with a really flexible, innovative staff,” Stein said. “Whatever the situation is, we’ll pivot to make the best of it and support the community.”
Fogtown’s brewery and tasting room is in the first story of a large brick building on Pine Street in Ellsworth. The doors opened in January 2018.
“We really like Ellsworth; we’re not leaving,” Stein said.
The Bar Harbor tasting room can offer space for people to gather before and after performances at the Criterion, he said. The brewery is leasing the space from the nonprofit theatre. “We’re excited about working with them.”
Fogtown will also host performances, “small, intimate shows that would be too small for the Criterion,” he said. A special amusement permit to allow this was approved by the council.
Stein and Ian Heyse and their staff have been remodeling the Cottage Street space, which most recently was home to the Trailhead Cafe.
“It’s not all about selling the most beers possible,” Stein said, “it’s about the experience and the community feel and the aesthetic.”
The company plans to keep the tasting room open year-round.