Downtown business owners: Envisioning a more robust Main Street

  • Downtown Northampton on Main Street in 2017. Gazette file photo

Published: 5/27/2021 3:24:00 PM

When we, the undersigned, as business owners in downtown Northampton, picture Main Street we envision a place with greenery and shade; we envision a place where bicyclists ride without fear of automobiles; we envision a place where pedestrians are walking down the street, stopping into businesses, enjoying the shade from trees on a sunny day, gathering outdoors to talk and laugh; we envision a place that values the community more than it values the 50-cent parking fee.

What we have been given as options by the city for Picture Main Street is a step not far enough. We are living in a moment where the climate emergency is real and we have the opportunity — right now — to change how the future of our city will deal with that.

Emphasizing the importance of pedestrians and bicycles are just one aspect of how our city can affect the climate emergency. Including solar panels in the redesign would help shift away from fossil fuels. These could be placed atop bus shelters and above parking lots which would also provide shade for cars that would otherwise just bake in the sun.

Increasing the number of trees all around the city will increase foot traffic (studies show by up to 12%), decrease street noise, and make the aesthetic quality of Main Street more attractive for residents and tourists alike.

President Joe Biden has made it part of our collective fight against the climate emergency to ensure that electric cars are the future of automobile technology within a decade. By the time our new Main Street is finished, that timeframe will be half over. How will we deal with a growing majority of electric cars needing charging stations if we don’t focus on shifting parking to centralized parking lots where mass charging stations can be set up?

There will be less and less need for Main Street parking, so our vision of Main Street should reflect that. There are reasons to keep more than one lane — emergencies are the most important one — but there is plenty of room to have three lanes of traffic and increase pedestrian walk-ways and additionally have bike lanes if we reduce the amount of parking on the three-block stretch of Main Street between City Hall and Route 5.

Walking is good for us, but it is also financially good for the city. When people walk to their destination they pass by dozens of stores and have considerably more opportunities to shop in those stores than if they were destination shopping downtown. As business owners we know how important customers are — they are literally our lifeblood. But we would rather have customers who are able to pass by two dozen storefronts to get to us than park right in front of our buildings.

We would rather spread the opportunity with the entire business community than try to hold fast onto those customers who might complain about walking three blocks. It makes all businesses vital to the strength of the city.

There is a lot of data that supports these claims, but at the end of the day, what will win over hearts is not data, but the look, the feel, and the community of our city. This is why we believe that we can do better than the options that the city has presented to us for Picture Main Street.

By only giving us these four options they have eliminated the chance for the residents of this city to dream bigger. There is a group of citizens who are dreaming bigger called Main Street for Everyone (mainst4everyone.org) that we are proud to be associated with. Please join us in envisioning a Main Street that will be vital in 2025 and beyond, not one that will be stuck in the past.

This is just one possible vision of a Main Street for Everyone. What’s yours?

This column was co-written by Aimee Franaces and Jesse Hassinger, Belly of the Beast; Nate Clifford and Jade Jump, Cornucopia Market; and Alli Juriko and Joel Juriko, Dobra Tea.


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