BERLIN – Town officials are hoping to close a section of Main Street on Sundays this year to allow for an expansion of the Berlin Farmers Market.
The Berlin Town Council voted unanimously Monday to ask the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) for permission to close a piece of Main Street on Sundays during the farmers market, which runs from May through September.
“Straddling, in essence, a state highway — Main Street — with the farmers market on Pitts and Commerce, it presented some challenges when it came to pedestrians crossing the roadway,” Mayor Zack Tyndall said. “By implementing a possible closure of Main Street in this area it would help heighten the sense of security for people that are going to cross from one spot to another in search of their goods at the farmers market.”
Ivy Wells, the town’s economic and community development director, recounted the success of the 2020 Berlin Farmers Market.
“Last season, we were faced with unprecedented challenges because of the pandemic,” Wells said, adding that the market had nevertheless found success after expanding its footprint to allow for more physical distancing. “At a time when the local grocery stores were running out of food the community could depend on the ability to purchase local food, baked items, seafood and more right here in town, outside where it was safe.”
Wells said pedestrian traffic more than doubled and the town’s brick and mortar businesses also began to benefit from the market, as several merchants set up wares on the sidewalks in front of their shops.
“In what was a very sad and lonely time for many of us, the Berlin community spirit here in Berlin was thriving on Sundays,” she said.
Wells said that because there was so much foot traffic, this year staff recommended closing Main Street — from Broad Street to the parking lot next to World of Toys — during the market.
“We’d like to create a community gathering setting by also having the 13 café tables and 26 chairs awarded to us through grant funding to be placed on the shoulders of North Main Street to allow for additional seating and physical distancing,” Wells said.
Council members didn’t object to the proposed road closure but voiced a few related concerns. Councilman Jack Orris said he wanted to make sure residents were aware of the closures, particularly since many attended church services on Sunday mornings when the market was taking place.
Tyndall suggested a quarterly notice regarding potential closures related to events could be included with utility bills.
Councilman Dean Burrell asked if the Berlin Fire Company had been consulted regarding the proposed street closure. Staff said it had not.
“I think the fire department has an abundance of knowledge related to possibly traffic flow, related to time it takes to get to an emergency situation, and time it would take to go around a street closure,” Burrell said. “I would just think it’d be in our best interest as a town, in building a relationship with our fire department, to include their knowledge on the base planning of these events.”
Tyndall said the fire company would be contacted.
Councilman Jay Knerr asked if the farmers market layout would be condensed if participation waned in the early fall.
“If the restrictions are lifted we can compact the farmers market to a smaller footprint,” Wells agreed.
The council voted unanimously to ask SHA for approval for a closure of Main Street during the farmers market. Tyndall said the closure would help the market as well as the shops downtown.
“The congregation around the farmers market could help provide some secondary economic benefits to our stores,” he said. “It’s really a public safety concern along with some additional secondary economic benefits hopefully for our businesses.”