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Rutland maps out plan to help struggling businesses

(WCAX)
Published: Jun. 17, 2020 at 4:11 PM EDT
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Many businesses are struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, one Vermont city is changing street patterns in the hopes of boosting sales. Our Olivia Lyons maps out the new plan.

"I think it's great! I think it's long overdue," said Esther Wagenheim, a former Center Street building owner.

This week, the Board of Aldermen approved the $20,000 temporary expansion of Center Street's sidewalks in downtown Rutland. The temporary expansion gives restaurants more room for outdoor seating, creating a way for businesses to make more money during the pandemic.

"I think this will help," Rutland City Mayor David Allaire said. "It will certainly give them some opportunities to broaden the number of people they can serve at any one time."

The goal is to have the project completed by the Fourth of July weekend.

"It's awesome because everyone is suffering. It's time to be entrepreneurial and nimble and come up with new ideas," said Bruce Bouchard of the Paramount Theatre.

The Department of Public Works has already painted the lines showing the new changes. They include safety zones, bicycle parking, parking spots and parklets.

"A parklet, otherwise known as street seats, is taking what was part of the street and allocating it back to pedestrians or businesses in the form of a mini-park," said Devon Neary of the Rutland Regional Planning Commission.

Another aspect is adding color to engage the art community and make it a unique destination to bring more people to the downtown.

"A big thing with these temporary demonstrations is to use it as a community-building exercise. Every department has endorsed and supported this has a part to play in this, which is great from Parks to DPW to the Garden Club," Neary said.

"I'm really looking forward to see how it turns out. It's been a while since the whole neighborhood got together and it will be really good for business," said Hassan Kay of Rutland.

This is one of the longest-running pilot studies; rather than a weekend to about four weeks, it will be in place for three months. Allaire says this may lead to discussing a more permanent change.

"I'm hoping this is the start of a rejuvenation," Wagenheim said. "I mean it's a funny time to do it, but there's not a better time."

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