Closed Main Street

This aerial view of Colorado Avenue depicts one possible configuration of what a pedestrianized thoroughfare would look like, should Main Street be closed to vehicular traffic in an effort to boost businesses operating in an era of social distancing requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Courtesy image)

Telluride Town Council again discussed the concept of making Colorado Avenue a pedestrian area, as they continue to explore ways to support a local economy reeling from the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing public health orders issued by state and county officials. Tuesday’s regular council meeting marked the second in a series of discussions surrounding a potential Main Street closure.

The discussion was once again led by town projects manager Lance McDonald who framed it in terms of logistics such as parking and deliveries, while addressing the challenges of doing business in a climate of social distancing and limited crowd size. The main concept is for allowing shops, restaurants and bars to expand business onto adjoining sidewalks and public rights of way.

“The understood interest of council in this matter is to explore ways to assist local businesses during the COVID pandemic by potentially providing an opportunity to expand their businesses into the Colorado Avenue right-of-way to offset potential reductions in permitted occupancy resulting from social distancing requirements,” McDonald read from a memo to council last week.

Council members reported that they had each spoken to numerous Telluride business license holders and offered feedback, some of it conflicting.

“Generally, people are not in favor of closing Colorado Avenue to traffic,” said council member Adrienne Christy.

But council member Geneva Shaunette reported another side of the coin.

“Restaurants and bars are very interested in more outdoor seating,” she said. “I heard overwhelming support for this.”

The line seemed to be drawn between traditional retail businesses and those offering food or drink.

Council member Tom Watkinson implored the business community to let council know how best it could support it.

“I charge the businesses with telling us what to do,” Watkinson said. “Tell us what (you) need from the town to make this work.”

Several business owners took the opportunity to weigh in. Brown Dog Pizza owner Dan Lynch spoke in support of doing something innovative to achieve some level of income in a summer that has so far been marked with the cancellation of several major festivals and events, including the town’s annual July 4 celebration.

“We’re not expecting to be profitable until June 2021,” Lynch said. “We need June and July … we need that revenue. This (outdoor) dining option will save us a lot of business.”

Ross Martin, co-owner and chef of The National, urged council to seriously consider off-premise, adjacent dining.

“We all have to morph and change our business plans,” Martin said. “It’s crucial we take a look at this.”

Martin pointed out that The National, which has its primary access point on Pine Street, could benefit from having that block of Pine closed to vehicular traffic, as well.

It is anticipated that social distancing requirements will be in place this summer, a public health requirement that will, said High Pie Pizzeria owner Kristin Shumway, reduce her indoor capacity by 50 percent.

“It’s imperative to have some outdoor seating,” Shumway said. “If we don’t do this, I don’t see how restaurants will stay afloat.”

Restaurateurs Roscoe Kane of the Floradora and Stanya Gorraiz of Steamie’s Burger Bar also supported the idea of allowing spillover seating outdoors for diners. Gorraiz described to council a way of creating designated outdoor dining areas with platforms outside of restaurants that abutted sidewalks that could be easily removed and stored. The configuration, she said, would still allow for delivery and emergency vehicle traffic.

Non-food and beverage retailers, however, reacted coolly to closing town’s main thoroughfare.

Longtime merchant Bob Franzese of Black Bear Trading Company said that without convenient parking business would suffer.

“It’s all about access,” he said. “We’re just hoping for enough visitors to pay our bills.”

Franzese also expressed concern about additional tables, tents and other temporary items should the wind pick up.

“I’m worried about the wind,” he said. “That will all become projectiles.”

Todd Tice, co-owner of Telluride Trappings and Toggery, said that closing Main Street “does not help our business,” but said he would support whatever scheme could be agreed upon that would be “a win-win for everyone.”

Telluride is not alone in trying to think creatively to help bolster the local economy, one that relies on visitors for sustenance. Breckenridge, according to a recent article in the Summit Daily, is facing a 50 percent reduction in tourism this summer, though officials there are optimistic for stronger late-summer business. Breckenridge Town Council is working on a plan to close down its main artery in order to allow on-street business to occur in deference to social distancing public health orders

From the article, “Town Manager Rick Holman said the Breckenridge Reopening Committee is ‘feverishly’ planning for the closing of Main Street to motor vehicles and opening to pedestrian access and open-air restaurant space. He said the committee is on track in the planning process but is still working out some decisions that need to be made, such as whether businesses can use pop-up tents.”

But, for Telluride officials, uncertainty clouds the future.

“There’s no way to know when our community can be opened,” council member Todd Brown said. “It’s just unknown.”

Council will take up the matter again at its Tuesday meeting via Zoom. Council will be meeting weekly until further notice. For more information, visit telluride-co.gov.xs