Driving around downtown Morganton might look a little different now that a couple of parking spots and part of King Street are blocked off with tables and chairs filling their spots.
Sharon Jablonski, director of the city’s Main Street department, said the city was looking for ways to help restaurants expand their capacity and help diners feel more comfortable.
Looking at some other cities around the state, the idea of “parklets” and “streateries” was born.
The parklets will take up a couple of parking spots around town, one in front of The Grind Café on West Union Street and another down the street near Brown Mountain Bottleworks and Homer’s.
The streatery will run alongside the park area beside Root and Vine on King Street, closing a portion of the street. Jablonski said all of the parking lots on King Street will be accessible from East Meeting Street, and Morganton Savings Bank customers still will be able to leave the bank from King Street; they’ll just have to turn right.
Jablonski said the city chose that street because it offers plenty of shade to help keep diners cool on hot summer days.
“We’re going to try to make it a showpiece,” Jablonski said. “It’ll have tables, chairs, umbrellas, more artwork within it ... I think it’ll grab a lot of attention for us.”
The city had artist Brandon Lynn, also known as “The Swede,” paint a mural on North King Street to serve as a walkway for those utilizing the streatery.
Lynn, who also painted the mural on the side of Oak Hill Iron + Wood, said there wasn’t a specific theme to the mural and there were no political motivations. He said he just wanted it to be happy.
He said he’s been doing art his whole life, but got into graffiti a few years back.
“It’s a release,” Lynn said. “It’s a therapy, just like as a martial artist I like doing martial arts for therapy, lifting weights. It’s just as much important to me as that. If I couldn’t do art, I don’t know if I would be the person I am today.”
Lynn said he isn’t a graffiti writer, but said those who practice graffiti writing are true artists.
Jablonski said other pieces of art will be installed in the streatery, and said even the concrete barriers blocking that portion of the road soon will be painted to add some more color.
She said her office’s No. 1 objective is to make downtown visitors feel comfortable and safe.
Businesses have told Jablonski that some businesses have been very successful with online sales, but others that have had to close and are just now able to reopen are seeing business returning slower than they might have hoped for.
“I think people are still afraid, they’re being cautious, and that’s very understandable,” Jablonski said.
The city is hoping more businesses soon will be able to open downtown, and hopes that more businesses will be able to attract more customers.
“I cannot emphasize enough that people like to eat out,” Jablonski said. “They want to do something ... food is always an attraction, always has been, and so my first goal is to get my restaurants as strong as I can make them and hope that that then turns into dollars for our businesses.”
Some people were out enjoying the parklet in front of The Grind Café on Monday.
“It’s a fantastic idea, they ought to make it permanent,” said Bill Steiner. “We can lose a parking space or two.”
One of Steiner’s friends agreed.
“There’s enough parking lots,” said Frans Boersma. “People will have to walk a little bit, but that’s just fine with me.”
Steiner and Boersma weren’t the only supporters of the parklets and streatery. Jablonski said a petition that started in support of the streatery got around 300 signatures between its online format and hard copies distributed to local businesses.
Jablonski said the North Carolina Forest Service BRIDGE Program built more permanent seating areas for the parklets, which, along with the streatery, will be up until further notice.
The streatery portion of King Street, from the corner of West Union Street to the edge of the parking lot behind Root and Vine, will be closed 24/7. All of the parking lots on King Street remain accessible from East Meeting Street.
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