Dozens of retailers on lower Exchange Street in the Old Port have signed a petition demanding that the city council reopen the area to vehicular traffic immediately according to Sal Scaglione, the co- owner of ABACUS GALLERY, 44 Exchange Street, a go to gift shop because of its unique selection that appeals to customers with price tags to fit all budgets. Scaglione, the originator of the petition, and his business partner own four other gift shops in the state of Maine – from Boothbay Harbor to Ogunquit.
The City Council arbitrarily shut down certain streets in the Old Port to vehicular traffic until November 1st to allow restaurants to open outdoor dining facilities as long as they adhere to enhanced protective measures. But, the number of retailers in lower Exchange Street far exceeds the number of restaurants in the several block location. It begs the questions: How did the City Council come to the conclusion that its policy would not discriminate against the overwhelming majority of retailers? Sales are plummeting like a dead weight around the necks of retailers. There is informed speculation that next month, July, numerous businesses will start shutting down because of lack of sales.
There are gift shops, jewelry stores, card shops, souvenir shops and clothing stores hat line the Exchange Street. For them displaying jewelry, cards and more on the sidewalk is not practical. And those retailers far outnumber restaurants on Exchange Street. Did Councilors consider that? Which retailers did councilors survey or consult on Exchange Street? Councilors must have consulted a crystal ball. A ouija board? Or maybe they just flipped a coin.
“We do not have the free flow of a prime location we all agreed to in leases, contracts and property tax commitments,” wrote Scaglione in the petition. “Most businesses cannot utilize outdoor commerce successfully,,,this is an invitation to skateboarding threatening the safety of pedestrians.” A major concern of the retailers according to Scaglione has been that “fire trucks, ambulances and police access is impacted and may result in delays when time is of the essence. The barricading of our street jeopardizes not only the public’s safety, but our safety and the protection of our personal property and buildings.”
“I appreciate that the city is trying to help, but it doesn’t help my retail environment,” said Caroline Aslani, manager of Market Square Jewelers, at 17 Exchange Street. “It’s not safe for me to put my jewelry on the street. It’s not feasible to do. Parking has always been a problem here in the Old Port,” she said. “This doesn’t help that problem.”
Aslani continued: “Our city has changed over the past 2 – 7 years and we need to catch up with the changes. There are some things the city has done well, like promoting businesses down town and promoting tourism. But I do hear people concerned about rising rents and the lack of reasonable living space,” she concluded.
“It’s not practical. And the weather is unpredictable,” said Jen Belanger from central Maine, referring to the ban on vehicular traffic. She and her husband were among the very few visiting the Old Port late this afternoon on a beautiful spring day. She was referring to shutting down lower Exchange Street to vehicular traffic. This policy is more in line with the city’s wish to make Portland a more walkable city to emulate other cities across the country than it is with any economic advantage for small businesses along Exchange Street.
“We didn’t think the Jersey barriers were up on this street where all the local vendors are located. Parking is limited here and we had a hard time finding parking and getting here,” said Frances Vessey as she and her husband entered a gift shop near the bottom of Exchange Street. She and her husband, senior citizens, live in Scarborough, were in the Old Port looking for a birthday gift.
“We all have struggled enough dealing with virus demands. Please stop throwing more hurdles in our path and open our street now,” said Sal Scaglione in his petition.
Please see posts herein dated May 12, 2020 and May 15, 2020 on the rushed policy implemented by the city that is more in line with its effort to make Portland a more walkable city than in line with any economic advantage for shops on Exchange Street. Also, please see post herein dated June 9, 2020 about the beautification of the barricades.