By ERIN ROLL
Church Street’s pop up plaza and South Park Street closure will be taking a pause this weekend after some said streets were overcrowded and not enough masks were being worn.
Last weekend, the Montclair Business Improvement District and the township closed down Church Street and South Park Street for the first time since the pandemic hit allowing restaurants to expand dining space and creating a pedestrian-friendly space.
Mask-wearing was definitely a concern for the attendees, and some of the restaurants said they had trouble doing takeout and curbside delivery, said BID Director Jason Gleason.
The planned streets closures for this weekend will now be postponed so BID officials can reassess and revise the Pop Goes the Plaza project.
The streets quickly became crowded with residents wanting to get out to experience the decorated plaza with areas to sit and see the sights. But the street closures should not be interpreted as a street festival event, Gleason said.
“We’re really just taking the week to reflect, retool,” Gleason said. “It’s really supposed to be a demonstration of what a plaza – think a European-type piazza – could be in Montclair.”
Mayor Sean Spiller said the township respects the BID’s request and decision.
“We’ve informed our personnel of the situation and we remain ready to move forward again assisting the BID when Pop Goes the Plaza activities resume – likely next weekend,” said Spiller.
The review process will look at how Pop Goes the Plaza can continue to be offered in a way that ensures everyone’s safety, and meets as many different needs as possible, Gleason said, acknowledging that it would not be possible to meet every single need and wish from residents and business owners at the same time.
But generally, Gleason said, business owners reported that their customers seemed to enjoy the street closures. Some restaurants outside of the immediate area of Church Street and South Park Street also saw a bump in business because of the plaza, he said.
Councilman Peter Yacobellis who worked on the project with the BID and attended the pop up said that feedback from business owners and customers was 80 percent positive.
However, a South Park Street resident reported that he could not get to his driveway, and therefore was more or less confined to his house,so the BID is researching options to maintain driveway access for residents, as well as access for delivery and curbside pickup, Gleason said.
“[Last week] was a great way to test and learn and then adjust as you go based on the feedback. What stood out for me was people really appreciated having a destination and seeing friends and neighbors,” Yacobellis said.
Yacobellis said a central pickup/drop-off location for takeout and pickup orders is being considered.
“I’d encourage retail businesses to consider ways, such as adjusting hours, to try to capitalize on the increased foot traffic as well,” Yacobellis added.
Most of the 100 residents of 45 Church Street who reached out to BID liked the idea of the plaza, and thanked the BID for not closing the entire street, Gleason said.
Pop Goes the Plaza was conceived because there was a general support for an open space concept.
Pop Goes the Plaza is intended to help increase business for Montclair’s small businesses, which have all been affected by the COVID-19 shutdown, Gleason said. “Ultimately we want this to be a success for everyone. We want to save these businesses any way they can and help them get back on their feet.”