East State Street will partially close to traffic on the weekends for outdoor dining and retail. Photo by R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia.
After months of stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic, southeastern Pennsylvania is slowly and purposefully reopening. Much of the state will transition to the green phase on June 26, per Gov. Tom Wolf’s orders. While social distancing practices remain and caps on occupancy are in place, Kennett Square is celebrating this new phase. As a result, a number of businesses have joined together to create an open-air marketplace along a portion of East State Street in the heart of the borough.
Taking place Thursday through Sunday, local retailers and restaurants will expand outdoors, with restaurants setting up tables in the streets, while retailers augment their stores in creative configurations for shopping, sidewalk sales and pop-up shops. The marketplace—which covers the 100 block of East State Street between Broad and Union streets—will remain partially open to traffic.
“We’re thrilled that they’re giving it a try,” says Marlene Robinson, owner of Mrs. Robinson’s Tea Shop. “I just think it’s such a creative idea and really indicative of the town’s commitment to merchants and restaurant owners here.”
On June 15, the Kennett Square Borough Council voted to accept Mayor Matthew Fetick’s proposal to partially close East State Street as part of a plan to support local businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the mayor’s office. The mayor and council are monitoring the effectiveness of this measure and will consider closing other Kennett Square streets if it proves a success.
This new initiative isn’t the first time Kennett Square has opened its streets to local businesses. Third Thursday—a summer event that closes three blocks of State Street every third Thursday evening of the month to allow for outdoor dining, extended shopping hours, and live entertainment in the street—has been a popular tradition since 2014.
Many such festivities have been cancelled this year due to COVID-19. “[State Street] just lends itself to a street fair atmosphere,” says Robinson. “We’re missing some of our more traditional street fairs, like our Mushroom Festival, so it’s kind of nice to have some alternatives.”
The new concept along East State Street first opened to local businesses on June 18, bringing relief to local restauranteurs. “With outdoor dining, it really helps,” says La Verona chef and owner Jack Mavraj, whose outdoor seating options were formerly limited to the restaurant’s small patio. “It gives us a little more room to put the tables at least six feet apart. People feel very comfortable coming out [thanks to these changes].”
In a town that’s usually bustling in summer, businesses are looking forward to reconnecting with their community. “My husband and I often just pinch ourselves when we think about this community in Kennett Square because it’s so much like a Hallmark movie town,” says Robinson. “We know all of the merchants in town, and the neighbors and community are so committed to each other. You just feel that when you’re in town, and you feel that with this initiative.”
Business owners hope it will draw not only borough residents, but visitors from neighboring towns. “We’re still getting customers from Delaware coming over to Kennett and having the experience of dining in the street,” adds Mavraj. “It’s really good for everybody.”