Open Streets initiative kicks off in downtown Burlington

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BURLINGTON, Vt (WCAX) Starting today and on every Saturday for the rest of the summer, small businesses are spilling out into Burlington streets.

Zach Williamson of the Burlington Resource and Recovery Center says the Open Streets project is supporting small retailers and restaurants struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic.

"The businesses are all really pleased that the city is doing this effort to get them some more safe, usable space and increase their capacity even if it is for only one day," he said. "Saturday can really be a big make or break day for any business that's trying to get back on its feet."

Stores on College and Bank Streets say they've been preparing for this weekend, investing in outdoor tents, extra clothing racks, and portable credit card scanners. After months of low turnover, store owners like Kari Feingold, owner of the Tailfeather department store, and Bridget Conry of Ceres Natural Remedies, say they're ready for a larger volume of customers.

"You see a little bit, but I think people are afraid to go in places," Kari said. "And I don't blame them. You know we try to make things as clean and safe as possible, but I'm excited to kind of bring it out, set it up, and make it look nice."

"I think that people are still a little bit nervous about coming in," Conry said. "But they want to be out, so they're walking the streets and so this gives us the opportunity to be out here and engaging."

Customers say they do feel much more comfortable shopping, eating, and mingling outside rather than in a confined space.

"I think it's definitely a good idea because businesses who wouldn't normally be able to provide people safe access to their products will now be able, too," said Helen Agraves of Burlington.

"I think this is something that will give both the businesses the little boost that they need, or the big boost that they need, and I also think that it gives the patrons the opportunity to go out and still feel safe," said Gena Graham of Texas.

This event will take place every Saturday between now and the end of August.