‘A little alfresco’: Strong Avenue makeover provides new outdoor dining experience in Northampton

  • Jill Slattery, left, and Diane Fray fill flower boxes along the newly closed Strong Avenue in Northampton. The avenue will be closed from Eastside Grill to Local Burger from Memorial Day to Labor Day and have music in the gazebo Wednesdays and Thursdays from 5 to 8 p.m. and Sundays from 3 to 6 p.m. Deb Flynn, owner of Eastside Grill, said, “I want the city to be happy, have a good time and see something new and exciting.” STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Chres Smith and Darrin Booke install a gazebo along the newly closed Strong Avenue. The avenue will be closed from Eastside Grill to Local Burger from Memorial Day to Labor Day and have music in the gazebo Wednesdays and Thursdays from 5 to 8 p.m. and Sundays 3 to 6 p.m. Deb Flynn, owner of Eastside Grill said, “I want the city to be happy, have a good time and see something new and exciting.” STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Justin Pelis fills flower boxes along the newly closed Strong Avenue. The avenue will be closed from Eastside Grill to Local Burger from Memorial Day to Labor Day and have music in the gazebo Wednesdays and Thursdays from 5 to 8 p.m. and Sundays from 3 to 6 p.m.Deb Flynn, owner of Eastside Grill said, “I want the city to be happy, have a good time and see something new and exciting.” STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jill Slattery fills flower boxes in the newly closed Strong Avenue. The avenue will be closed from Eastside Grill to Local Burger from Memorial Day to Labor Day and have music in the gazebo Wednesdays and Thursdays from 5 to 8 p.m. and Sundays from 3 to 6 p.m. Deb Flynn, owner of Eastside Grill said, “I want the city to be happy, have a good time and see something new and exciting.” STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 5/26/2021 9:34:59 PM

NORTHAMPTON — On Tuesday morning at 7 a.m., a large crew of city officials, restaurant workers and volunteers began transforming Strong Avenue into a new outdoor dining destination. By 2 p.m., “Summer on Strong” officially kicked off.

Dozens of planters, tables and a gazebo were set up for restaurants on Strong Avenue to offer expanded seating and musical performances throughout the summer until Labor Day. The “Summer on Strong” is a collaborative project between the owners of Eastside Grill, Familiars Coffee & Tea, Local Burger, Homestead, and Progression Brewing Company. Musical performances will start next week on Wednesday, June 2 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., and follow the same hours on Thursdays and Sundays for the duration of “Summer on Strong.”

“My vision was to have a place where it was safe, where people could come to walk, or bike, and also be able to have something to eat, drink and go shopping,” said Deb Flynn, owner of Eastside Grill. “It’s a nice streetscape that has plants and trees and it just looks pretty and inviting and you want to spend time downtown.”

Traffic will now be cut off to Strong Avenue from Main Street. The city installed a large trailer at the intersection of Pleasant Street and Pearl Street with a sign warning traffic that the street is closed off and that there is no access to Main Street from Strong Avenue.

Restaurants on Main Street and throughout other parts of Northampton have relied on new rules Gov. Charlie Baker enacted in response to the pandemic since last year to keep patrons safe. Special permits have allowed restaurants to expand dining to outdoors, and on Tuesday, Baker filed legislation to extend those special permits until Nov. 29. Currently, they are set to expire 60 days after the state of emergency ends on June 15.

“To be honest with you, I never thought it would happen, and there it is,” Flynn said while looking at the outdoor dining set up through a window in her restaurant. On Wednesday afternoon, there were people milling around the large plants and admiring the gazebo where musical acts will perform.

Last summer, Eastside Grill had 22 seats for clientele by being creative and using a decorated alleyway behind the restaurant. Now the restaurant has expanded seating to 70 seats with additional tables on Strong Avenue.

“The pandemic kind of forced an imagination for space,” said Robbie Bocon, general manager of Eastside Grill. “There is an excitement now for outdoor dining and the imagination forced you to do it any way you could. Now that excitement for outdoor dining is not going away so you might as well use the space you can however you can. If you can make it beautiful, you can turn it into a draw — for your business and for the city.”

The project took an enormous fundraising effort. In total, it cost $23,000 to fund the makeover of Strong Avenue. Funds came from sponsors such as an anonymous donation of $5,000, Greenfield Savings Bank, Dowd Insurance Agencies, King & Cushman, and Lowe’s Home Improvement, among others.

Progression Brewery is preparing a 16-foot cargo trailer that will be converted into a rolling tap wagon and connected with eight taps as part of “Summer on Strong.” The brewery plans to unveil the tap wagon on Saturday.

With the lifting of all restrictions for bars on Saturday, May 29, Progression founder and CEO Drew Starkweather is looking forward to “another small piece of normality.”

Starkweather said, “you can just go have a beer outdoors … (“Summer on Strong”) is in part to bring back a little more vibrancy and destination to downtown Northampton, a little alfresco experience is just lovely. I know it’s hard with traffic concerns and things, but I think it really could give Northampton a special advantage to come into town and enjoy.”

Progression has outdoor seating on its patio beside the bike path, but Starkweather is looking forward to expanded seating with “Summer on Strong” as he anticipates portions of his clientele will still have some hesitancy with indoor seating even as vaccination efforts are well underway throughout the state.

Ed Hamel of Southampton said he drove out to Northampton to check out the “Summer on Strong” on Wednesday afternoon. He had plans to meet up with friends and they were drawn to the newly arranged and decorated Strong Avenue.

“It’s fantastic and people love these walking streets,” Hamel said. “You can come stand in the middle of the street and not worry about cars.”

Even though mask-wearing mandates are being lifted by Gov. Baker on May 29, Hamel said he still feels some hesitancy about eating indoors, and he is grateful to have more outdoor dining opportunities on Strong Avenue. “We are fortunate to live here because so many people have been vaccinated,” he noted.

As for the potential for more traffic due to the closure of a portion of the street, he added, “government and business together have to get more creative about how to be successful … There might be traffic backed up, but there are trade-offs. I think businesses have to be helped and supported.”

Amy Cahillane, executive director of Downtown Northampton Association, said she is excited about the “Summer on Strong” project.

“It’s a great thing for Strong Avenue and I think this is the perfect summer to try it because people are coming out after COVID-19 and it feels like so much is changing all the time,” Cahillane said. “So what’s a little more change?”

Luis Fieldman can be reached at lfieldman@gazettenet.com.


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