Immediately restore the former parking and traffic pattern to downtown Northampton.

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Tipping point.

My name is Peter Kerantzas, and my wife Penelope and I own and operate Haven Body Arts on Main Street in downtown Northampton.  As an owner, I feel compelled to make our local community aware of the challenges our small businesses have been forced to endure, not only as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but also due to the renovation of Main St.

Ultimately, I need you to take action.

When the lock down hit earlier this year, downtown suffered waves of small business casualties.  Some fell at the initial onset, others during the lock down, and those that survived are now facing a challenging and uncertain future.

Sadly, not every business that has made it even this far is going to survive.  Some are already planning to close and others are hanging on by a thread. For those in the most precarious positions, any more hardship will cause them to fail. Please hold this point in your mind, as it is at the heart of why I have decided to take action.  If there is any more pressure, if anything else goes wrong, there are those who are going to lose everything they have, everything they have worked their entire lives for. Small business owners never stop working. They invest not only all their time and every penny they have into their shops, but their hearts and souls, as well.  For them to lose everything because of a poorly conducted city project would be nothing short of a tragedy.

With that being said, despite the love and support of our community, many Northampton small businesses find themselves in this exact predicament.

When Northampton implemented free parking two weeks after reopening phase two, it encouraged people to come to town and support our businesses, even though most had to reopen with many restrictions to help with the public’s health and safety.  This was an excellent decision by the city with a clear and positive effect on downtown; it was exactly what we needed.  It was a sign that our city understood the hardships that lay ahead. It also provided a lifeline for the businesses in the worst situations, albeit a brief one.

Soon after the city returned to charging for parking, and much to the surprise of the many business owners and staff on Main St. (myself included), they implemented the “Shared Streets & Spaces Project”.

Disturbed by what I saw as the immediate consequences of this project, I decided to visit many businesses along or close to Main St. to ask for opinions on the changes the city had made. I spoke with thirty-seven owners and / or representatives of those businesses, and grew more concerned and confused about our city’s decision to implement this project while its small businesses were so clearly struggling.

The response to the “Shared Streets & Spaces Project” by our small business community was overwhelmingly negative.

Before I get into the details, let me be clear.  Our small business community is not opposed to change.  On the contrary, we constantly must adapt and evolve to survive, and we do so often. If those in charge of the “Shared Streets & Spaces Project” had followed some basic principles of project management, the reaction to the changes would likely have been very different. They should have performed outreach, obtained input from those that would be most affected, and used that information as a basis for a plan. The plan should have been executed in a logical and practical fashion, with emphasis on minimizing hardship for the community.  Once the project was completed, leadership should have maintained communication and gathered feedback on the project’s outcomes and any unforeseen complications or errors. Unfortunately, this is not how the project was carried out.

By the numbers of businesses I personally visited:

33 businesses are 100% against the changes

3 businesses are neutral or would like more time before making a determination

1 business (which is scheduled to close its doors this winter) is the only business who is for it.

I am still waiting to receive additional responses from owners I was unable to reach during my visits.

I compiled a list of the issues and concerns provided to me by the various businesses I spoke to.  This is not a definitive list, nor did all businesses share every point within this list, however these issues were the most common.

1.       Implementation & Response to concerns

a.       The majority of businesses were completely unaware that the city was making these changes.  Those that were notified received the “Shared Streets & Spaces Project” flyer a day or two before construction began.  The city made no attempt to gather input from the business community or conduct meaningful outreach.

b.       Construction began on a Thursday and continued into the weekend.  For most businesses in downtown, these are the busiest days of their week.  Multiple owners confirmed that the construction cost them business, and were angry that the city conducted the project over the weekend.

c.       Some owners have already attempted to reach Alan Wolf (the Chief of Staff for the mayor) or the mayor himself and have received no response or messages described as “dismissive”.  The general consensus among owners is their concerns are not being heard or taken seriously.

2.        Traffic

a.       Keep in mind this is summer during the era of COVID.  With the colleges shut down and people being cautious, normal city activity is greatly reduced.  Events that would normally generate a great deal of foot traffic, such as Smith’s graduation, Pride, and the County Fair, are absent.

b.       Even so, reducing Main St. from two lanes of traffic to one in each direction and introducing parallel parking without a parking lane have already caused a considerable number of problems.  Trucks and buses have been driving on the median to clear the parked cars on either side. Additionally, there is no space for any vehicles to stop without immediately causing gridlock. Businesses cannot take deliveries, perform curb-side pick-up, or conduct other day-to-day activities that require a functioning roadway.

c.       These problems are significant even with the currently reduced activity levels. They will only get much worse once usual events resume, which brings me to my next point.

3.       Health and Safety

a.       During this past weekend (8/20 – 8/23), traffic was backed up between the Main St. / Pleasant intersection and Main St. / New South St. intersections.  An accident occurred near the old Faces building, requiring the concrete barriers to be moved since EMS was not able to get around the vehicles blocking the road.  With one lane and rows of parked cars, there is no longer any room for EMS, Police, and Fire to circumvent traffic.  Traffic also blocked access to and from the Police Station on Center St. numerous times throughout the day. Even without the entrance being blocked, the Police still would not be able to use Main St. due to the traffic.

b.       The bottleneck created by the new parking and traffic patterns causes the vehicles to move much more slowly, essentially creating an exhaust tunnel through the center of town.

c.       The bike lane near the intersection of Main St. and New South St. ends in the bus stop.  I watched first hand as a bus pulled right up to the sidewalk, literally on top of where the bike lane would be.

4.       Accessibility & Parking spaces

a.       Northampton has always had issues with insufficient parking on Main St., so the reduction of parking spaces and traffic lanes seems illogical at best.

b.       Access for disabled persons is now abysmal, as the total number of parking spaces has been drastically reduced.  How were such accommodations not considered or accounted for?  Using the garage is not a viable option for many who are physically challenged in our community. Traveling a long distance to reach Main Street, perhaps through Thornes market or around the block, is no longer an option. The inability to pull up for curbside delivery restricts access even further and reduces the number of potential customers overall.

5.       “Helping” Restaurants

a.       Multiple restaurants stated that the reduction in parking is already hurting their ability to turn over their pick-up deliveries, and not just for the physically challenged. Because of the COVID regulations, curb-side pick-up currently makes up the majority of their extremely diminished business.  People aren’t dining in.  They do not feel safe; they are ordering and picking up.  As a result, the installation of giant, concrete “outdoor dining” areas right outside restaurants has compromised those restaurants’ main method of conducting business.

6.       Misallocation of resources and funds

a.       How and why was the city able to obtain a $200K grant “as part of our collective response to the COVID-19 crisis”, but has still done nothing to enforce the wearing of masks in downtown and other high traffic areas?

b.       Apparently, the city has the time to obtain a grant, use it to put planters on the road and paint murals. Why, then, can’t it find the resources to address the growing homeless, substance abuse, and mental health issues in town? If health and safety are such a concern, why is there no comparable effort to get people suffering from these conditions the help they need to be safe, if for no other reason than to slow the spread of the pandemic?

For those of you that are still reading and that are as disturbed by the consequences of these changes as I am, were you able to keep in mind the thought I asked you to?

“If there is any more pressure, if anything else goes wrong, there are those who are going to lose everything they have.”

I cannot fathom why, when our local small business community, Northampton’s townspeople, are enduring the worst combination of health and financial crises in a lifetime, our city would do something that so clearly makes things harder for those just trying to survive. Yet they still continue to bring a shred of normalcy and access to wanted and needed goods and services to everyone who lives in or visits the Valley, preserving a glimpse of what pre-pandemic life was like.

The reduction in foot traffic can and will negatively impact all of downtown.  It’s already happening. Saturday evening I checked-in with a few of the businesses I had spoken to earlier.  They told me that their revenues for the day were the worst they’ve had since reopening and that they had been relying on their Saturday sales to cover their monthly lease agreements. In many cases, those leases have not been reduced despite tenants’ lessened revenue. 

Our business will be fine.  We are very fortunate to have an amazingly strong and loyal following and an understanding landlord. We were also able to pivot and adjust; others have not been so lucky. I’m raising these issues because it makes my heart sick to see people get ground into the dirt due to this thoughtless incompetence.

The businesses I spoke to did more than share their overwhelmingly negative opinion of the changes.  They also signed a petition to immediately restore the former parking and traffic pattern to downtown Northampton.  A few owners wished to remain anonymous and were intentionally left off the list, but I want the public and the Mayor to know that there are more than 33 business owners comprising 3 blocks of town who are angry and frustrated about these changes.

Please speak up before we lose more of what makes Northampton our home.

Some of us don’t have any time left.

The current list of businesses on the petition:

Absolute Zero
Beryl
Born Again Vintage
Cathy Cross
Filos
Hannoush
Harlow Luggage
Haven Body Arts
Highbrow
Northampton Jewelers
Northampton Wools
Oh My
Penny Lanes
Raven Books
Shop Therapy
Strada
Synergy
T Roots
Teapot
Teds Boot Shop
The Nooc
The Vault
Theory
Tiger Lilly Salon
Uya
Vision Associates
William Baczek Fine Arts
Wurst Haus Noho

Please sign and help save our small businesses in downtown Northampton.