New York

Open Streets gives Park Slope small town feel on 100th day

Park Slope’s Open Streets program is celebrating its 100th day — and residents and merchants want the road-closure arrangement to live forever.

Despite the obstacles of closing off 17 blocks of prime real estate to most traffic on a weekend, the business district in Park Slope calls it a win.

The Park Slope version of the citywide Open Streets program has saved businesses from the pandemic, gotten residents outside and into communal space, and given this bustling Brooklyn neighborhood a small-town feel. Saturday marks the 100th day of Open Streets in Park Slope since its July 2020 launch.

About once a week from spring through fall, restaurants, boutiques and other businesses welcome as many as 1,000 people a day during the program, in which Fifth Ave. from Bergen to Fourth Sts. is closed to all but deliveries and movers, making it a pedestrian paradise for 17 of the 30 blocks comprising the neighborhood’s Business Improvement District.

“The Open Streets just allowed us to meet so many new people,” said Brendan Byrnes, owner of neighborhood bar The Commissioner.

This year, Open Streets is cordoning off a total of 300 blocks, or 8 miles, throughout the five boroughs. The city gives permits, and awards some money through grants. Local neighborhoods do the rest.

In Park Slope, it started as an attempt to relieve pandemic tension and help businesses stay afloat while people were locked down, organizer and Business Improvement District Executive Director Joanna Tallantire told the Daily News. Nearly half of the 520 businesses that belong to the Park Slope BID, about 200 of which fall within the Open Streets boundaries, were soon involved.

It has evolved into what organizers hope will be a permanent cul-de-sac closure at Fourth St. in addition to making a chunk of the Brooklyn neighborhood’s main drag purely pedestrian for one to two weekend days per week starting in spring. The 100th-day celebration will coincide with a salsa dance party sponsored by Besito Restaurant on the block between Dean and Bergen Sts. from noon to 10 p.m.

Open Streets proved to be a lifesaver for restaurants like French-fare Bricolage, which expanded from two or three curbside-dining tables to 10 or 14, owner Miro Gal told The News.

“That made all the difference in the world,” Gal said. “If it wasn’t for that program, we wouldn’t be here.”

Cal-Mex eatery Calexico kept its four other locations afloat as well.

“It significantly supplied revenue to support the rest of the entire company,” said Park Slope’s general manager, Amanda Scala. “It allowed us to stay open the entire pandemic. None of our stores closed.”

“It deepened our relationship with High Dive, the dive bar next door,” The Commissioner’s Byrnes said, explaining the venues coordinated live music, served complementary beer selections and made sure their patrons did not take up table space at neighboring eateries. “We both saw business increase dramatically.”

When the new fish market next-door started selling oysters during Open Streets, “people loved it,” Byrnes said. “They’d buy a bottle of wine from us and a dozen oysters from them, and it’s a win-win.”

Without traffic, families amble up and down the avenue.

“No fear. Everybody’s relaxed. No cars, no noise, no smoke,” Gal said.

“I walk down and bump into neighbors all the time,” said Tallantire, who’s also a resident. “And it’s nice — we end up having a margarita or something.”

The camaraderie extends beyond the day itself, since “everybody’s out, rather than locked up in their businesses, and we talk, and we form relationships, and we help each other,” Gal said.

To be sure, it’s a huge undertaking, and not without detractors. Some have complained about the parking constraints, Tallantire acknowledged, though she was quick to point out that Fifth Ave. is time-limited, metered parking anyway.

A staff of volunteers makes sure everything stays clean. They also navigate construction and work by Con Ed and National Grid. And there are the inevitable people who move barricades and try to drive through, despite the city permit.

Overall, business owners said it’s one pandemic tradition they want to keep.

“Open Streets has strengthened the community, not just between the businesses and their customers, but also between the businesses themselves and the customers, neighbors and residents,” Byrnes said. “The community is stronger and more vibrant because of it.”

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