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North Hempstead Town offers free permits for street closures to help struggling businesses

Bill Gordon, President of the Greater Port Washington

Bill Gordon, president of the Greater Port Washington Business Improvement District, spoke to Newsday on Thursday about closing off portions of the roads in Port Washington to help businesses survive through the pandemic.  Credit: Jeff Bachner

North Hempstead Town is allowing local business groups to apply for a free permit to close streets, launching a “Lift Up Local” measure to make room for struggling restaurants and stores to expand their capacity outdoor and boost business.

“As businesses are looking for ways to [expand operations outdoor] in a safe way, this is just another tool on their menu box of the things that they can do,” said Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth, adding that she envisions the environment will resemble “an outdoor mall.”

The town is the latest example of a wave of local governments working to give a boost to businesses that have suffered months of revenue loss and job cuts and continue to face capacity restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In Nassau, half a dozen municipalities as of early July are participating in the county’s Open Streets Pilot Program, which fast-tracks permits to allow closures on county roads that pass through villages and hamlets. Out East, Patchogue, Riverhead and Greenport have closed downtown streets for open-air dinning.

North Hempstead Town officials said road closures could be used for events like a street festival, which would create a synergy that benefits participating merchants.

“Not only does it encourage people to come to your shop … but it will bring in other customers who may not be regulars who will be going to see the other places that they go to, and now they might discover something that they didn’t know existed,” said town spokesman Gordon Tepper.

Bill Gordon, president of the Greater Port Washington Business Improvement District, said his group is working with the Port Washington Chamber of Commerce, two villages and the town to work out the logistics, including which streets to close, what activities to offer and what crowd control measures to put in place. The goal, he said, is to have an event set up in early August. 

“We are pretty excited about it,” Gordon said. “What we are trying to do … is to allow as many businesses to participate as possible. We have to put a framework in that allows everybody to participate fairly.”

The permit could be used for multiple days from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., according to the town. But it is only available to a chamber of commerce, a business improvement district or a majority of merchants on a street wishing to participate in a road closure for outdoor dining or shopping.

Betsy Liegey, president of Residents Forward, a civic group in Port Washington, said her organization supports any initiative that would make the community more resilient in difficult times.

“It’s something that other parts of Long Island have done to a great degree of success,” Liegey said. “If we continue to do it in a safe way and everyone follows the rules … I think it will bring more vibrancy to our downtown.”

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