As restrictions loosened per Gov. Tom Wolf’s statewide COVID-19 recovery plan, a Wednesday evening stroll down Media’s bustling State Street might be reminiscent of summers past—with a few significant changes. Launched last month, diners can eat al fresco at tables spaced at least six feet apart, without traffic rumbling by. It may not be Dining Under the Stars, but Media is experimenting with closing its streets in support of local businesses.
On Wednesday evenings from 5-10 p.m., restaurants can offer dining in the street. State Street previously closed to traffic on Sundays from 3-9 p.m., but the borough has since limited closures to Wednesday nights. Visitors must social distance and wear a face when not seated at a table.
Local restaurateurs have largely embraced the opportunity to serve more patrons and hope it leads to fiscal recovery. “It’s been refreshing to see everyone come out again,” says D Vinciguerra, manager of Fellini Cafe of Media. “The restaurants naturally were in the trenches, being victims of [the COVID-19 shutdown], but it just seems like we are witnessing the relief of it, too.”
Some local shops have also been taking advantage of the street closure. Kenny’s Flower Shoppe sets up a tent on the pavement with bouquets, floral arrangements and gardening tools for people to peruse as they stroll. The shop has also started delivering goods directly to diners’ tables. “I think the extra visibility has been great,” owner Joyce Walker says. “Being out on the street has helped a little bit for people to even identify us as a business in town.”
Other business owners, however, say that street closures present challenges for their operations. “During Dining Under the Stars, when there was no COVID, we found that people come to dine—they don’t come to dine and shop,” says Candice Caprice, owner of Per Lei Boutique, which is closed during open-air dining hours. “As a retailer, it hurts our business when they shut the street down because it doesn’t allow our customers to park.”
Still, she recognizes the advantages. “I know that it does help the restaurants,” Caprice adds. “When you’re in a town, it’s a give-and-take as far as trying to help all businesses.”
In addition to concerns about customer accessibility, a number of business owners say they are wary of drawing crowds as COVID-19 cases continue to rise nationwide, with a number opting out of participating on Wednesday evenings.
But open-air dining patrons have been largely compliant with public health guidelines, and the Media Business Authority is working to enforce mask usage and social distancing, Walker says. For those who don’t, she’s seen Zubair Khan, executive director of the MBA, passing out masks in the street. “I just want everyone to stay safe,” Walker says. “We just hope that everybody can get out and enjoy what they can the best they can.”
Despite restrictions, business owners agree that the pandemic has brought the community closer together. “In ordinary times, we don’t have that sort of cohesiveness,” Vinciguerra says. “[The pandemic] sharpens people’s focus on their individual responsibilities serving the greater community.”
Loyal customers, too, have helped local businesses stay afloat. “We’re so thankful for our customers,” Caprice says. “We look forward to better times, but we’re happy that they’re sticking with us during this time.”