An open-air market in downtown Damariscotta will debut Saturday, June 13.
The Damariscotta Board of Selectmen approved plans to close parking spaces on Main Street to create the open-air market Wednesday, June 3.
Susan Murphy, owner of Cupacity and the Gilbert E. Gay building, and Lisa Hagen, of the Damariscotta Region Chamber of Commerce, presented the selectmen with their plans for the market.
The plan will close parking spaces on the post office side of Main Street for one Saturday each week in the month of June from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Hagen and Murphy originally proposed the idea to the selectmen May 20. At the time, the selectmen asked for a more solid proposal.
The goal is to create an outdoor shopping experience that will provide more space for physical distancing and make visitors feel safer during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 12 parking spots on the east side of Main Street, beginning at the Damariscotta Center building, will be blocked off with barricades. All the parking spots on the west side of the street, including four in front of Renys’ clothing store, will remain open, Hagen said. All handicapped spots on both sides of Main Street will remain open.
The town will use two barricades it has available, according to Town Manager Matt Lutkus.
Selectman Mark Hagar said he would be willing to loan barricades from Hagar Enterprises Inc., his family’s construction company.
Hagen, of the chamber of commerce, said the plan is to test the open-air market concept on each Saturday remaining in June, beginning June 13, to see if it is effective.
“It may not even work. But we’re hoping to try it, to give our businesses that are hurting and hanging on by a shoestring, to see if this would do something,” Hagen said.
Each business will set up its own kiosk, table, or tent, as well as decorations, in front of the storefronts. The outline recommends that businesses provide hand-sanitizing stations and trash bins for overflow garbage.
Brick-and-mortar businesses downtown that do not have a storefront on Main Street but wish to participate in the open-air market can contact the Damariscotta Region Chamber of Commerce at 563-8340.
The business coalition that presented the plan to the selectmen conducted a survey of downtown businesses that showed near-unanimous support for the market. Renys signed on after receiving assurances that parking spots in front of its two stores would stay open.
Three businesses on the west side of the street expressed opposition to the plan, or to elements of the plan. Two expressed concern about physical distancing, while one would have preferred a different day.
The organizers of the market will not provide port-a-potties as originally suggested, in order to implement the idea faster.
“We feel at this point we want to get something up and running to try to give businesses a boost in the community. People are not comfortable, necessarily, going into small business locations. And we feel like an open-air market will help give a boost to the community … and get people outside and shopping,” Hagen said.
Hagen said she broached the subject of extending the open-air market into Newcastle with Town Manager Jon Duke. Duke said the town would wait to see how things pan out in Damariscotta before making any decisions.
Selectman Daryl Fraser, who manages the Colby & Gale Inc. service station in downtown Damariscotta, expressed his support for the open-air market.
“Let’s try it out, work out the bugs. It’s a pilot program, so there’s going to be some hiccups,” Fraser said.
Board Chair Robin Mayer also expressed support.
“I think they listened to us and what our concerns and comments were last time and came back with a better proposal for us,” Mayer said.
Lorraine Faherty, representing the Rotary Club of Damariscotta-Newcastle, spoke in favor of the plan and offered the club’s services to support the open-air market.
“We could provide a couple of people every time you do this, with our nice yellow safety vests, to offer free masks to people who aren’t wearing a mask and encourage them to appropriately physically distance and that sort of thing,” Faherty said at the meeting.
Faherty said the Rotary Club does not have a stockpile of face masks available and she expects the downtown vendors to provide them for customers.
Face masks will be strongly encouraged at the market.
The selectmen approved the open-air market 4-1. Selectman Josh Pinkham cast the dissenting vote, citing liability concerns.
“I have yet to see anything about liability. The participating businesses, does their commercial liability policy cover these outdoor things beside the roadway?” Pinkham said.
Lutkus said the town would be covered under its policy with the Maine Municipal Association, should any injuries or damages occur during the market.