Downtown Brunswick businesses can reopen for in-person dining and shopping June 1. Town officials and the Brunswick Downtown Association are working on a plan that would allow local shops and restaurants to expand their outdoor offerings. Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

BRUNSWICK — Downtown Brunswick may soon have more options for people who are “clamoring to get outside and enjoy a sandwich and a glass of wine,” but still want to maintain a healthy distance from other diners. 

Debora King, executive director of the Brunswick Downtown Association, is working with town officials on a proposal that would block off a handful of parking spaces along Maine Street to allow restaurants and retailers to set up outdoor dining or shopping options on the sidewalk, effectively turning the parking spaces into a makeshift pedestrian walkway. 

Restaurants and shops have been closed to customers, instead operating in a take-out or curbside only capacity, since mid-March in an effort to stem the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Gov. Janet Mills recently released a four-phase reopening plan in which restaurants in all 16 counties will be able to reopen to diners June 1, provided employees and customers follow proper social distancing requirements and wear masks. Some more rural counties, such as Sagadahoc, have been allowed to reopen sooner.

Bunswick’s plans are still in the early stages, and the downtown association is surveying businesses for opinions and plans to bring the results back to the town officials this week. 

“Before we proceed with anything, we need to get input,” King said. “If they’re willing to try something new we’ll go for it, but we’re not going to force anything down people’s throats because we heard it worked somewhere else.”

Earlier this week, Portland city officials voted to block off portions of Dana, Exchange, Milk and Wharf streets to allow shops and restaurants to reopen under social distancing guidelines, the Portland Press Herald reported. The street closures will take effect June 1, when the state allows restaurants to reopen for the first time in more than two months and the program will run through Nov. 1. Rockland has made similar changes, restricting vehicles from a portion of its downtown and creating a pedestrian way. 

Blocking off a portion of the road or any of the side streets in Brunswick was not an option, partly because Maine Street funnels traffic to other, busier roadways. 

According to town manager John Eldridge, initial suggestions included blocking the outside lanes on either side of Maine Street, but officials quickly realized it “wasn’t going to work from a public safety standpoint.” 

The current proposal would require the town to purchase large barriers to place outside the parking spaces. Town officials are figuring out a cost estimate, but Eldridge told the council on Monday that because the barriers would need to be “substantial” due to the traffic flow on Maine Street, the cost would likely be significant. No commitments have been made, he said. 

There are currently 16 restaurants offering outdoor dining downtown and in order to operate safely, many of them will have to either spread their tables out farther apart and/or remove some of the tables to ensure six feet of separation.

The proposal may not be for everyone, according to King, and responses to the survey will dictate how they proceed. 

Some businesses do not offer outdoor dining right now, she said, and may not want to commit to the expense of buying patio tables and chairs. Others have indicated that they will not be opening for in-person dining when the restrictions lift June 1, and will instead continue with curbside and takeout dining.

“There’s no point to close (parking) if the businesses won’t want to use the spaces,” she said, but “We want to be able to give people options.” 

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