LOCK HAVEN — The Pedestrian Mall in downtown Lock Haven is having some unintended negative consequences, according to one business owner.
Nicholas “Nick” Hawrylchak, owner of the Broken Axe Brew House on Bald Eagle Street, pleaded for council to do research into how the closure of Main Street has effected restaurants and businesses outside of the two block section of the city.
Hawrylchak said he’s spoken with business owners who are feeling the effects of government restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a loss of revenue due to the Pedestrian Mall.
Many of those he spoke to fell into two categories.
“Many businesses within or close to the Pedestrian Mall that offer products or services customers desire have seen a dramatic decline in sales on Friday afternoon and Saturdays,” he said.
“Businesses, and more specifically restaurants, within the city of Lock Haven but outside the Pedestrian Mall have seen a continuing decline in customers Friday afternoons and Saturdays,” he continued.
Hawrylchak said the limited dining and channeling of customers to the select few businesses on Main Street has caused between a 20 to 50 percent decline in business at these places on Friday afternoons and Saturdays within the last month.
“The businesses have expressed that this decline in revenue directly correlates to the Friday and Saturday Pedestrian Mall and that other days do not show the same decline,” he said.
Hawrylchak emphasized that he was glad that the closure of Main Street was having a positive impact for businesses in the area but asked that council consider alternatives to help other shops and restaurants outside of it.
“I would really like to celebrate the success of the Pedestrian Mall and the hard work that everyone has put into it. Unfortunately with a dramatically limited customer base the unforeseen consequences have been encouraging the majority of willing customers to frequent a select group of businesses,” he said.
Hawrylchak also addressed the issue of wanting to blame the pandemic for restaurants and stores having issues.
“I know it is natural to deflect and assume declines are results of current stricter mitigation requirements but we and many other restaurants outside the Pedestrian Mall never came close to 25 percent occupancy during restrictions while pictures and videos posted this weekend can clearly show a very crowded downtown,” he said.
Hawrylchak asked council to conduct a survey, similar to one they used at the start of the endeavor, to compare to his findings.
“I believe it would be sensible for a survey to ask each business if they have seen a correlated positive or negative impact from the Pedestrian Mall and an estimate of the impact,” he said.
If his estimations were to be correct, Hawrylchak submitted a list of possible improvements to the Pedestrian Mall that council could consider. This includes closing only parking stalls in front of select businesses in the city instead of two blocks of a street.
“This would allow for outside dining while reasonably limiting the dining space to one area,” he said.
During discussion, Council Member Barbara Masorti asked if Hawrylchak had spoken with Downtown Lock Haven Inc. Manager Marie Vilello about how DLH could help.
“Marie came to speak to me four or five days ago. We had a long and productive conversation and she seemed to understand where I was coming from,” he said.
Hawrylchak said he’s been sending ideas to Vilello in an effort to find good alternatives to the current situation which could have a better impact city wide.
“I’m really trying to think outside of the box on how we can really promote each other and find ways to push this in an even more positive direction,” he said.
Council Member Steve Stevenson said the Pedestrian Mall was not meant to harm any businesses, but to help as many as possible.
“It was all good intentions, not to hurt any downtown businesses. This is an experiment and we have to see it through and assess it at the end,” he said.
Stevenson believes that, aside from minor adjustments, the current Pedestrian Mall should stay the same.
“We’ve got to try and put all of our eggs into one basket and help the most people and businesses that we can help,” he said. “We don’t want to separate you just because you’re a couple blocks off Main Street because all the businesses are important to us.”
Hawrylchak respectfully requested council still consider conducting a survey.
“I would make a plea that due to the unprecedented circumstances that we’re all experiencing I would request that some expedited prudence on surveying the businesses in case there are more negative impacts than we could ever have seen,” he said. “I hope that’s wrong, please prove me wrong.”
Council Member Richard “Rick” Conklin noted that the city completed a survey only one week into the street closures. “That may need to be looked at again,” he said.
Council Member William “Bill” Mincer mirrored Conklin’s comments.
“It was done at the beginning and it wouldn’t hurt to get another set of opinions on this,” he said.
Conklin made a motion to have city staff conduct a new survey, with help from Downtown Lock Haven Inc., to gather more information about the downtown Pedestrian Mall’s impacts. The motion was approved unanimously by all members of council.
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