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A temporary reconfiguration of Massachusetts Street will allow businesses to expand outdoor dining and retail. 

The Lawrence City Commission announced in a news release Tuesday that due to fewer businesses than expected planning to expand outside, the reconfigured parallel parking on Massachusetts Street will be converted back to angled parking spots.

The reconfigured parallel parking will be removed from those who aren’t expanding out front. Businesses who still want parallel parking can apply through the City of Lawrence. 

Previously, the Lawrence City Commission approved plans to temporarily reconfigure Massachusetts Street to provide more outdoor spaces to businesses for social distancing at a City Commission meeting on June 16.

The original plan received mixed reactions from Massachusetts Street businesses, with some excited and supportive of the plan, and some ardently against it.

According to the agenda item report, the city commission received at least 14 supportive emails and at least six emails against the plan, including a petition signed by 17 Massachusetts Street business owners against the plan.

Businesses supportive of the reconfiguration include Jefferson’s, The Toy Store, Brits, Weaver’s Department Store, eXplore Lawrence and John Brown's Underground. Those against the plan include Wonder Fair, The Dusty Bookshelf, Arizona Trading Company, Global Café and Yarn Barn of Kansas.

An additional seven Massachusetts Street restaurants were contacted but did not respond or declined to comment.

Businesses wanting to expand outside must apply with the city to get special licenses. As of July 8, 17 Massachusetts Street businesses have applied to use outdoor space.

Brandon Graham, franchisee and president at Jefferson's Franchise Systems, said the reconfiguration will be a good way to attract customers to Massachusetts Street.

“…The extra space this plan would provide would be helpful for getting people to engage with small, local family-owned businesses like ours in downtown,” Graham wrote in an email to the city commission.

Brady Flannery, president of Weaver’s Department Store, said Weaver’s is also planning on expanding outside and is supportive of the changes.

“I hope this is something that will bring people downtown, that will make everyone feel safe and give businesses an opportunity to operate in this new environment come September and October particularly,” Flannery said.

Sally Zogry, executive director of Downtown Lawrence Inc., said businesses would be in charge of their own outdoor space and that restaurants that serve alcohol would also have to set clear barriers separating the dining area from the sidewalk.

Owners and managers from Wonder FairThe Dusty Bookshelf and Arizona Trading Company said they believe the reconfiguration favors restaurants and bars over retailers.

“It doesn’t really make sense to us,” said Holly Hurley, manager of The Dusty Bookshelf. “It kind of seems like a panic decision from the restaurants.”

Retailers expanding their business out front would have to have an employee outside to keep merchandise safe. Due to the pandemic, many businesses are also short staffed and would not be able to do that.

In response to these concerns, Zogry said businesses would not have to constantly have merchandise outside. Instead, she suggests retailers work together to decide on one evening a week when businesses put out merchandise for a few hours, similar to Final Fridays.

“Everybody has the opportunity to use the space, [it’s] up to them if they want to use it or not,” Zogry said.

Most of the downtown parking was never directly on Massachusetts Street in the first place, said  John Wilkins, a principal designer at Gould Evans, the design firm in charge of the reconfiguration. Instead, parking was usually found in the side streets, the parking garages or in the parking lots behind businesses.

“Of all the parking downtown, only about 11% of all the spaces are on Massachusetts Street,” Wilkins said. “We were removing, I think, two-thirds of that. So we’re removing 7% of all the parking downtown and converting that to people space.”

Zogry said the parallel parking spaces help businesses and customers with quick shopping trips and are not intended to limit the number of customers coming downtown.

“The 15-minute parallel parking is intended for those quick errands and really for curbside pickup that’s been a lifeline to so many businesses. Not just restaurants, but retailers as well,” Zogry said. “There are a lot of people who still don’t feel comfortable going into a business.”

The reconfiguration will end Oct. 31, Zogry said, but there will be a city commission review of the plan on Aug. 4. Zogry said changes can still be made to the plan and can even be undone early if enough people are against it. 

With confirmed cases of the coronavirus rising in Douglas County, Wonder Fair owner Meredith Moore said the plan is risky. She said she believes there are better ways of supporting restaurants besides opening more tables.

“I think what we learned from moving from phase two to phase three of reopening too fast is that it’s not very safe to eat out and dine in restaurants,” Moore said. “I’m concerned that putting more dining on the sidewalk and encouraging people to do it gives the perception that it’s normal and fine.”