NORWAY — The Board of Selectmen has tabled a vote on whether to close down Main Street to traffic during the annual Norway Sidewalk Art Festival in July, after several people voiced concerns about the proposal at Thursday’s board meeting.
“I just think it’s a real bad idea,” said John Belanger, who owns several downtown business and apartment buildings.
The 43rd annual sidewalk art festival is set for Saturday, July 10, as part of the three-day festival sponsored by Norway Downtown and the Western Maine Art Group on Main Street from Lynn Street/Greenleaf Avenue to Whitman Street and Pikes Hill.
The festival features the annual sidewalk art show and sale, the second largest in the state, and a full day of performances, including music, drumming, puppets, juggling, dance and other performances.
The move to shut down that portion of Main Street, a state road, has been under discussion for the past several years for safety reasons, but it was not until recently that the town was able to get an answer from the state about closing the road.
The move was proposed by the committee overseeing the festival because of increasing concerns about the safety of the public, which must walk into the street many times to get around the art displays on the sidewalk, and the participants.
Festival officials say the Main Street sidewalks cannot hold both the art displays, which are often under 10-foot pop-up tents, and the pedestrians.
The state has, however, refused to shut down the road for the day and has advised the town that it could exercise its police powers to reroute traffic in response to a local situation or event as long as it maintains minimal disruption for the volume and size of traffic that normally uses Routes 117 and 118 in the summer.
Lisa Moore, committee coordinator for the festival, said they would like to see the road closed from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the day of the art festival, when they estimate between 3,000 and 4,000 people come to town to enjoy the free event. She said they would like to try it as a “one-year experiment.”
While many of the downtown businesses are in favor of the move, not all businesses have been happy about the event.
Teresa Kozak, owner of Snips hair salon on Main Street, said she simply closes down for the day. “Absolutely. It’s not like I’m selling ice cream or bottled water,” she said.
Kozak said that when she was open, there were problems of people coming in wanting to use the bathroom facilities and then leaving a mess. She said that because she has a number of elderly clients who can’t walk far to get to the business, there is no sense in being open Saturday.
“I think the people who live on Main Street get forgotten about,” Belanger said. “There should be some alternate plans.”
Belanger said that the board should consider closing some side streets, better utilizing areas such as Butters Park for the artists, and develop other ideas to help the pedestrian traffic move safely down Main Street.
Police Chief Rob Federico said Main Street has been closed for many years for the annual Christmas parade without problems, but that is only for an hour or two and not the all-day event planned for the art show.
Although Selectman Warren Sessions made a motion to close the street to parking only, other selectmen felt it was best to table the discussion.