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Greenport’s parklets were hailed as a model for other small towns. (Photo Credit: David Benthal)

In March, businesses faced a lot of uncertainty when the effects of the pandemic first hit home. When indoor dining shut down, that uncertainty grew into fear. 

“In March and April, there was a lot of pain that was happening because a lot of businesses just didn’t know what to expect or what to do,” said Rich Vandenburgh, co-owner of Greenport Harbor Brewing Co. and president of the village Business Improvement District. “And it was just a lot of concern, a lot of fear, a lot of uncertainty.”

As the warmer weather approached with the height of the year, Greenport’s BID began to survey members about what they needed, and a popular answer was more outdoor space. Thus, the idea for the “parklets” was born. 

“The typical merchant does 75 or 80 % of their annual income over the extended summer season,” said former Greenport mayor Dave Kapell, to whom Vandenburgh credits the original parklets idea. “Unless something was done aggressively to respond to that, we would be facing a lot of business failures.”

Starting Memorial Day weekend, parking spaces along Front Street and parts of Main Street were blocked off to create parklets to extend the sidewalk and protect patrons from traffic. Some also contained chairs and tables to help compensate for reduced indoor dining capacity. In total, over 50 parking spots were used that created an additional 9,000 square feet of space for walking, commercial sales and outdoor dining.

For their determination and hard work in creating the parklets, which allowed businesses to utilize outdoor space in a time when indoor space was limited, the leaders and members of the Greenport Business Improvement District are the 2020 Northforker People of the Year. 

Greenport’s lively street scene continued into the cooler months.

The conversion didn’t happen overnight. There were obstacles: traffic diversion, keeping the sidewalks compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and making sure there was still enough parking in the area. The first example of a parklet with outdoor dining was created in front of Agave on Front Street. 

“It was an immediate hit,” Vandenburgh said. “It was one of those things where if you build it, they will come, and it was exactly what happened. As soon as that first weekend was done, I started to get calls from all the other food and beverage businesses asking, ‘When do I get mine?’ At that point, we knew we were on to something.” 

Many of the restaurants in downtown Greenport saw these parklets as an expansion of space that they simply didn’t have before. 

“The parklets were incredibly important to us this year,” Andrew Werts, co-owner of Ellen’s on Front, said. “It gave us an opportunity to serve guests who were particularly concerned about indoor dining, and expanded the number of seats we could offer to customers during the busy season. The BID, and its leadership, were instrumental in getting the parklets approved, installed and managed, and I am so happy with the results.”

The work done by BID to keep pushing the parklet concept was monumental in creating an all around safer environment.” —Marc LaMaina, owner of Lucharitos.

Other businesses felt they were necessary for their survival during what would be their busiest season.

“The work done by BID to keep pushing the parklet concept was monumental in creating an all around safer environment for our business community to continue to remain open,” said Marc LaMaina, owner of Lucharitos. “They worked tirelessly. There was a lot that went on behind the scenes. It wasn’t easy — a total uphill battle. We would all be in a world of hurt had we not had these parklets. There is just no getting around that.”

Now, the parklets could possibly be a part of downtown Greenport every year.

“A lot of businesses are very much hoping for the reinstallation of these parklets next summer, and quite possibly something that we see ongoing on an annual for the busier time of the year,” Vandenburgh said. “It brought a lot of life and activity to the village that you haven’t seen previously. It was a life preserver in a sea of uncertainty this summer.”