WESTERLY — Downtown merchants and restaurant owners are considering a yellow brick road approach to lure customers to the town’s version of the Emerald City — the historic downtown.
On Monday some of the business owners asked the Town Council for a little help bringing their vision to reality. Colin Bennett, co-owner of The Malted Barley and president of the Downtown Business Association, said the association would like footprints or a colored arrow painted on roadways leading to the downtown area.
“A lot of people say they didn’t know this was here” when they finally find restaurants and shops downtown, Bennett said.
Markings on the road would be particularly useful on Main Street and High Street. Too often, Bennett said motorists on Main Street, coming from Pawcatuck, stay in the right lane, never realizing the other lane could take them to the historic downtown.
Bennett praised the directional “shop and dine” signs that the Greater Westerly-Pawcatuck Area Chamber of Commerce has posted and said painting the roads would be another step toward bringing more potential customers to the area.
Bennett was joined by other merchants including Jerry Desmond, whose wife, Jackie, is a co-owner along with Jackie Aldrich, of Babies Natural, a place that provides holistic natural products and classes for pregnancy, birth and baby care. Lois Miner, who owns Mary D’s Antiques on High Street, also attended.
Jerry Desmond also asked the council to consider allowing a throwback to an event that was once popular in the downtown — sidewalk sales. Desmond said his wife and her business partner selected a High Street location because they were drawn to the downtown and its potential. While other merchants have been welcoming since the store opened in February and they’ve been impressed with their commitment to the area, Desmond said sidewalk sales could be another important tool to trigger greater crowds.
“It might be something to help someone survive in tough times,” Desmond said.
Councilors were receptive to both Bennett and Desmond’s ideas and agreed to ask them to return to a future meeting to hammer out details. Councilor Andrew Gencarelli asked Bennett to research other communities that employ signs painted on roadways.
Joe Nigrelli Jr., who was unable to attend the council’s meeting Monday because of another obligation, said Tuesday that the downtown looks as good as ever. He was referring to the Main Street Matters storefront painting program sponsored by Benjamin Moore and organized by the chamber, and new plantings at Wilcox Park.
The area is pedestrian friendly and offers an interesting mix of shopping and dining opportunities, said Nigrelli, whose family owns Nigrelli’s Jewelry store. The challenge, he said, is to promote the area and make sure people have an opportunity to experience it.
“What brings people to downtown areas is just what we have in Westerly,” Nigrelli said.
Painting the roads, Nigrelli said, could give Westerly “a Federal Hill feel,” a reference to the well-known culinary destination in Providence. If the idea gains traction, Nigrelli said a community contest could be held to choose the colors to be painted on the roads.
Councilor Kenneth Parrilla said sidewalk sales were very popular in the town about 15 years ago.
He also noted that Desmond, a captain in the Stonington Police Department, was wearing a Stonington High School Bears shirt during his appearance before the council. “You’re wearing the wrong shirt,” Parrilla, a long-time youth sports enthusiast, said.
Desmond jokingly replied he would don a Westerly High School Bulldogs shirt if the council allowed a return of sidewalk sales.