Recovery efforts support small businesses across the Wilds
Across the Pennsylvania Wilds, communities are working to find ways to promote economic recovery following many, many weeks of shutdown as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the initiatives differ from community to community, the message is the same: Support small businesses in your own neighborhood.
The City of Lock Haven, in the I-80 Frontier landscape of the Wilds, is promoting an initiative that allows restaurants and retailers to extend their business past the sidewalk to provide an open-air shopping and dining experience.
“The intent behind this street closure is to not only help restaurants and retailers hold a larger capacity, but also to ease concerns by residents who may still be hesitant to sit in close quarters inside a restaurant,” said Kasey Campbell, Lock Haven’s Director of Community Life.
The community’s Summer Concert Series will be held in the downtown this year, allowing attendees to sit in a restaurant area while they listen to the music.
This initiative, what they’ve called the “Downtown Pedestrian Mall,” will continue throughout the summer, ending September 26.
(Photos above show the new Lock Haven Pedestrian Mall recently. Courtesy of Bill Crowell / Budget Artist.)
Safety, Campbell said, is the major consideration in putting this initiative in place. To stop the spread of COVID-19, signage has been placed throughout the downtown that states that social distancing is still in effect while outdoors. All restaurants and retailers must provide enough spacing to allow six feet of distance between tables and pedestrians.
“There are handwashing stations set up in three locations, one near our stage, one in the outdoor dining park, and one on a Main Street corner,” Campbell said. “All restaurants participating require masks while inside the restaurant and traveling throughout.”
In a similar initiative in Bellefonte, also in the I-80 Frontier region of the Wilds, Downtown Bellefonte Inc. has joined forces with Bellefonte Borough and the local Chamber of Commerce to work towards recovery efforts in Bellefonte.
“One initiative we are taking is creating more outdoor seating and dining options for our visitors and residents who want to support our local businesses but aren’t quite ready to dine-in at their favorite downtown restaurants,” said Gina Thompson, Main Street Manager for the organization.
The first iteration of this initiative was held during the June “Friday in the ‘Fonte” celebration, where distanced bistro tables lined the community’s waterfront walkway, as well as were placed in front of the county courthouse, for downtown visitors to enjoy takeout in an outdoor setting.
“Many outdoor events, such as our YMCA summer program and our community’s weekly Concerts in the Park will resume with appropriate protocols for social distancing,” she said. “In July, Downtown Bellefonte Inc. plans to hold a Sidewalk Sale on the last Friday of the month to encourage outdoor shopping and dining in our downtown district.”
These efforts, it seems, are well-received by the community residents. On the neighborhood social networking site Nextdoor, Bellefonte residents welcomed a way to stay safe while getting out to support businesses.
In Lock Haven, “most community members and residents have been receptive and excited about the Pedestrian Mall, and restaurants have reported sales that exceeded pre-COVID numbers,” Campbell said. “Our hope is that this will continue to grow, and businesses will adapt and become more creative as the summer goes on.”
The Elk Country City of St. Marys recently posted a number of things that make their community unique, perhaps encouraging a relocation from city life to enjoy the slower-paced lifestyle the Wilds has to offer.
In Allegheny National Forest & Surrounds community of Kane, COVID-19 hasn’t stopped new businesses from opening, with the Kane Area Development Center posting a ribbon cutting ceremony celebrating the opening of a new business last month. Plus, the community’s “100 Days of Kane” social media campaign has continued, where residents share their unique Kane stories.
Philipsburg, in the south-central region of the Wilds, has posted opportunities to get downtown and support businesses while grabbing takeout from regional food trucks. It is also offering opportunities to show community pride in unique ways, by supporting merchandise sales through the historical society and by claiming ownership of a downtown flower pot to assist with beautification efforts.
No matter the initiative, it seems that communities share a sentiment: It’s never been a better time to live in rural Pennsylvania, where residents are able to spread out, stay safe and still “support local.”
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