Organizers Suspend Pop Up Park after Some Merchants Raise Concerns

The committee that developed, managed and advocated on behalf of the Pop Up Park downtown—recently securing approval to keep it in place through the summer—is suspending those plans indefinitely after a group of merchants in town voiced opposition.

According to a letter obtained by NewCanaanite.com that’s signed by 16 business owners downtown—most of them retailers, including Elm Street Books owner Susan Rein and Pimilico owner Jill Saunders (see full letter below, as well as those who added their names to it)—the Pop Up Park in occupying the final block of South Avenue at Elm Street obstructs traffic, blocks parking and displaces an important loading zone.

While complimenting Pop Up Park Committee members for their passion and diligence, these merchants say, the park itself “hampers business” because its visitors do not patronize local shops and restaurants.

“If it continues much longer, the small-town charm of New Canaan’s downtown is going to be overrun by big box chains just like many other towns in our area,” according to the letter, dated June 1.

“The look of the Park does nothing to enhance the visual appeal of town,” the letter said. “There are the fences and giant planters used to block traffic, the fountain with carpet laid over its hose and power source, the Costco brand tables and chairs. Even when there is an event, nothing is branded well and the set-up is juvenile at best. Then there is the excess garbage that overflows from the waste containers around the Park. We think the town of New Canaan deserves better and, as merchants, we strive to keep our planters filled and our window displays appealing to do our part to make the town visually attractive.”

The letter is to be sent to the New Canaan Chamber of Commerce, Pop Up Park Committee, Police Commission and Planning & Zoning Commission.

The perspective stands in contrast to what has been said of the Pop Up Park at public meetings where a 2015 schedule had been proposed and officials charged with making decisions on the park invited public comment.

It isn’t clear why those now lined up in opposition to the Pop Up Park failed to attend those public meetings or voice their concerns when in attendance.

There also appears to have been no communication outside of public meetings from those opposed to the Pop Up Park with the New Canaan Police Commission, the municipal group that oversees public road closures. For example, at a May 20 meeting when final approval was granted for the Pop Up Park to remain in place from the end of school (June 19) to Labor Day (Sept. 7), Police Commission Chair Stuart Sawabini said: “I have not heard really much grumbling at all.”

Rein could not immediately be reached for comment.

Saunders said that while more might have been done to involve merchants directly affected by the Pop Up Park sooner, those now raising concerns about it equally may have organized as a group more quickly than they did.

Asked to respond to the news that the Pop Up Park will not go forward as planned, Saunders told NewCanaanite.com: “I am happy that the Pop Up Park Committee has really taken some of the merchants’ concerns seriously. I think it is important that, going forward, we make sure merchants are included more. The idea behind this is great and I love it.”

One member of the Pop Up Park committee, New Canaan resident Tucker Murphy, said that the group is proud of its accomplishments and feels that it’s important to respect the perspective of “this small but vocal group of merchants.”

“We are just respecting fact that these merchants feel they have not had say in it,” Murphy said.

It isn’t clear whether the Pop Up Park will reform in some other area of the downtown, though Murphy said she’s open to exploring it.

Launched on a test basis in the summer of 2012 and evolving each year since into a more regular fixture downtown, the Pop Up Park at South and Elm—host to activities year-round including World Cup Weekend, family gatherings, outdoor concerts and showcases for local eateries—has garnered positive feedback from many residents, businesses and town officials. A poll on NewCanaanite.com in February showed that readers by a more than 3-to-1 majority had wanted the Pop Up Park in place during the summer.

Here is the text of the June 1 letter from merchants raising red flags about the Pop Up Park. Saunders said she wrote the letter and that it was simply presented to multiple business owners in town with an option to attach their names to it:

Dear Members of the Chamber of Commerce and the Pop-Up-Park Committee,

First, let us say thank you to each of you for all your hard work in trying to ensure New Canaan continues to be a harbor for small businesses. You each recognize how unique, small businesses help to separate New Canaan from any other Fairfield County town. The dedication you have to the Town of New Canaan, including your continued support and the support you rally from other residents of the town, is something we appreciate. We know how passionate each and every one of you is about the Pop-Up-Park, and we applaud that passion. However, there are effects of the Pop-Up-Park on us business owners that are not being heard or taken into account when it comes to the implementation of a Pop-Up-Park in its current location. 

We understand there have been numerous studies which speak to a positive impact of the Park on the Town. How many of these studies looked at the effects on the Merchants in town? How many of these studies, actually studied the small, independently-owned retail shops and restaurants in town? None of us were questioned or polled. The Pop-Up-Park’s goal and heart is in the right place. Unfortunately, the location is not.

Our issues with the Pop-Up-Park are as follows:

TRAFFIC OBSTRUCTION: The Park occupies the major thoroughfare of Elm St and South Ave which is instrumental in feeding those out of town patrons from the Merritt Parkway directly into the heart of downtown. This area also contains 4-7 parking spaces, at given times, and a very important loading zone. We small businesses need our deliveries. We need as many parking spaces close to the shops as there possibly can be. We need the traffic to flow smoothly and potential customers to be easily able to drive around “the block” if need be. By obstructing this major section of downtown, delivery trucks will now occupy more of Elm Street, block more parking spaces, inconvenience more patrons whose cars are blocked in by the double parked trucks and cause outright congestion on a daily basis. Potential customers who are looking for a free, 90 minute spot will no longer easily be able to swing around and look for parking. They will be hampered by the trucks and the lack of parking. Where will they go? To the internet, where they don’t have to fight to shop.

USE: One of the goals of the Park is to entice people into the heart of downtown: to use the Park and then leave it to continue to visit the shops and restaurants in town and patronize them. In theory this is a wonderful goal. In actuality, this is not what happens. During the week, there is a certain demographic using the Park – business professionals who spend their lunch hour in the Park (many of them bringing their own lunch from home and not ordering from local restaurants) and then returning to work. Merchants who are directly adjacent to the park have a daily view of who is drawn in. Of course there are exceptions. But we are concerned with the majority and the majority is not leaving the Park to continue to shop in town. On the weekend, the use is a bit different. Families with children make up the bulk of the Park’s draw. Parents can sit and chat while their children run free in the confines of the Park. Again, it’s a lovely idea. However, what parent is then going to take their wound-up child into the many different shops and restaurants they are supposed to be visiting after their stint with the Pop-Up-Park? The answer is, almost none. They leave town. They go home. 

The New Cananite recently cited the argument that the Park is encouraging New Canaan residents to walk or ride their bicycles into town. A quick survey of the bicycle rack which is set up adjacent to the park disproves this point. On average there are one to two bikes chained up a week, at most. There are also residents who walk to town. Ask them if they walk just because the Pop-Up-Park is up? Or do they walk to town on a regular basis because they have the luxury of living within walking distance? We know the residents. We can pick out those who walk to town, because they walk to town regularly, when there is no Park. We also know the local realty offices love the idea of the Pop-Up-Park. They talk of the pleasant village center and the enhancement the Park brings. We believe each unique small business that enhances the town? The Park hampers business and if it continues much longer, the small-town charm of New Canaan’s downtown is going to be over-run by Big Box Chains just like many other towns in our area. 

AESTHETICS: The look of the Park does nothing to enhance the visual appeal of town. There are the fences and giant planters used to block traffic, the fountain with carpet laid over its hose and power source, the Costco brand tables and chairs. Even when there is an event, nothing is branded well and the set-up is juvenile at best. Then there is the excess garbage that overflows from the waste containers around the Park. We think the town of New Canaan deserves better and, as Merchants, we strive to keep our planters filled and our window displays appealing to do our part to make the town visually attractive.

The idea of the Pop-Up-Park was initially an attractive one with many Merchants on board at first. We enjoyed the idea of a space in the center of town being used for weekend events. We thought it would be a space geared towards drawing more people into our downtown area, a space that added more charm to an already charming town. We thought all the predictions of people using the Park and then enjoying lunches and dinners at our fine restaurants, spending money at the various shops in town would come to fruition. We have had three summers now of the Park’s existence and three summers to feel the strain it has put on us. Last year, during August, when the Park was up for, what we were told would be two weeks, but ended up being three, it was disastrous. Our already slow summer was slowed even more, to an almost stand-still, with the blockage of the South Avenue and Elm Street intersection. The cars coming up South Avenue into town ended up in a long line, trying to decide what to do when they got to the barricade of the park. 

We, the Merchants of New Canaan, are working extremely hard to keep consumers coming back to our shops and restaurants. Luckily, we have succeeded in this, despite of and not with the help of, the Pop-Up-Park. We know it’s the Chamber’s and the Committee’s goal to help the town and its Merchants and we greatly appreciate this idea. However, when you’re in the trenches and have the day to day experience with the Park, you’d see it’s hurting, rather than helping the Town of New Canaan’s Merchants.

If there is a compromise to be made, we would suggest the Park is only open on weekends and the events it hosts are not just a stopping ground for people. The Park should become a staging area that drives people throughout town and encourages them to patronize the restaurants and shops of New Canaan. At this moment, the events start and stop in the park and don’t actively move its visitors around town. 

There is a disconnect between the Pop-Up-Park and the Merchants of New Canaan, but we are willing to come together with the Chamber and the Committee to work on better solutions. 

Sincerely,

Fiona Sigg and Stephanie Sigg Morrissey, Country Design

Nancy Kline Gorkin, Earth Garden

Susan Rein, Elm Street Books

Karen & Andrew Zuckert, gingerbitz LLC

Heather Gaudio, Heather Gaudio Fine Art

Maxine Berg, Jade

Diane Roth, L’Armoire

Helen Richards, Odesmith & Richards

Jill Saunders and Melissa Lindsay, Pimlico

Rose Bonura, Rosie

Sally Kaltman, Sallea Antiques

Susan Langford, Soleil Toile

Wendy Diamond, Taylors Luggage

Liz King, The Linen Shop

Robert Stinchfield, The Whitney Shop

Mary Jane Setter, Togs

27 thoughts on “Organizers Suspend Pop Up Park after Some Merchants Raise Concerns

  1. it is just regrettable that after the Pop Up Park was approved –that then the committee heard what the problems are? I find it hard to believe that all these problems (Traffic/Use/Aesthetics) are created by the Park. It seems to be a good concept in other communities but change is difficult in New Canaan

    • Silly. That’s a term that I wouldn’t have thought about using about the park I guess the people who actually used it over the last three years…….might agree.

    • The pop-up park was not *silly* as suggested by an obvious curmudgeon. It was a place downtown for family gathering and fun. It also served as a draw to get people downtown thus increasing the likelihood of people doing more retail shopping. It also served in giving downtown New Canaan that quaint village atmosphere so sorely lacking.

      • Upon further thought, it’s a shame the *powers that be* have focused on an *all-or-nothing* approach on the pop-up park issue. Isn’t there a happy medium that would satisfy both the retailers and the advocates? How about Fridays through Sundays only? If there are expenses involved in increased set-up/break-down on a weekly basis, I suspect there would be numerous volunteers willing to help out with this. If granted, I would be the first in line to help out…even at my tender old age. PLEASE rethink.

  2. Sad day for democracy when the complaints of a few ruin the benefits of the majority. As Samuel Adams once quipped, “It does not take a majority to prevail…but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men.”

    In reality, the complaints should’ve been brought to the Police Commission meeting in May. That’s something everyone can agree on. Instead, these merchants skipped the meeting and are raising the issue now. Seems comical to me…

  3. The pop-up park is an accident waiting to happen. Not only does it completely cut off a hugely used access street to and from town, the minute a child runs out in the street every ones thoughts will change. New Canaan has beautiful “real” parks where children can run and play without any danger. I do not understand the Chamber of Commerce. Their main focus should be Commerce. Commerce means business. Their goal should be helping and enhancing our towns business’s . Clearly the Chamber has been out of touch with the store owners and have not included, or ignored their input.
    And it seems that the gentleman writing all these articles about our store owners has a real edge or issue with our great shops. Perhaps he would feel more comfortable in a less affluent town , since many of his digs seem to be focused in that area. We have great schools and great shopping, two of the main draws that keep the the town unique, charming and and real estate prices high. I am tired of reading all the negative slanted reporting on our town. Our town is wonderful and caring and I am proud to be a resident of 15 years, and feel so fortunate that I had the privilege of raising our 4 daughters here.

    • Stacie, I think you have Mike Dinan confused with the reporter at the town newspaper.

      On a side note I don’t think anyone considers the pop-up as a replacement for the actual parks in town. I have middle and high school kids. We don’t really frequent the parks outside of sports but we do use the pop-up when we want something to eat and nobody can agree or if we all have a quick errand to run on our own and that is the meeting spot. Ironically, Rosie and Elm Street Books are the places we spend the most money when making a pit stop at the park. The Chamber is comprised of a board of business owners and their members are business owners so they can hardly be blamed for being out of touch, as you say. The people I don’t see taking any flack for failing small businesses? The landlords.

  4. The way my family used this park was quite easy, not as a destination, but more as an impulse– oh hey, let’s grab a sandwich from Rosie, sit in those awful COSTCO chairs , let the kids run into the book store with $20 a buy a couple of books while I can talk with my husband . Now my kids are sitting and one gets up and hits some badmitton with my husband. Hey, I have a second to run into TOGS and pimlico without boring my family :). I spent more in town with the park there!

    Last time I checked, Jade hasn’t been there long enough to experience the pleasure of the park, and Saella antiques is “retiring” (antiques are, well, a thing of the past”, and L’armoire isn’t even near this part of the street (nor ginger bitz)

    Rosie is one of my favorite eateries, I am long time customer. It’s nice for her to have a little extra seating from time to time for take out!

    To blame woes on this issue is just plain silly when “voters” were in favor 3-1. I understand the frustration of the stores, but I would be more concerned about the daily double parking of their delivery trucks that obstruct traffic all year long and deter people from coming downtown than this little gem

    I can only imagine what business is like the day of the sidewalk sale and all the bougey out of town vendors dare cross our borders to sell in our town. Oh my.

    And please, these 16 vendors better not have a single costco membership. I would hate for anyone to be a hypocrite.

    Thanks for sharing Michael

  5. We can’t have anything that is just nice. The pop-up park was a great place to meet up in town, listen to some music, watch some soccer or grab some food. I say go the other way and make it permanent. Perhaps these store owners complaining should look at what is really hurting their businesses rather than blaming the pop-up park for a lack of sales.

  6. Like many New Canaanites, we’ve enjoyed the pop-up park as an occasional weekend occurrence, but the proposal to set it up for keeps for the summer did seem a little overboard. Note that the 16 merchants who signed the letter do agree to having the pop-up park remain open on weekends only, as it has mostly been in the past. Yes, it takes more work to set up and break down, but why not pursue that course instead of this all-or-nothing impasse?

    • Cam, that’s a good question and what we’d heard from the Pop Up Park Committee on it was 1. It’s not just a lot of work to set up the park and break it down each weekend, it’s not a realistic long-term possibility, and 2. Many of the complaints voiced about the park had to do with its up-and-down-again nature (motorists forget it’s there, unsightly storage downtown, the type of furniture used had to be portable and so was less appealing). Here’s an article from a few months ago that outlines some of it: http://newcanaanite.com/committee-volunteers-needed-to-keep-pop-up-park-going-this-summer-25778 More recently, the Pop Up Park Committee called the May 20 decision by the Police Commission on whether to approve it for a summer-long installment a “do or die” moment for the park itself.

  7. The real problem is the lack of parking on Elm Street. People would get used to the new traffic pattern and adapt. Making sure the free 90 minute spots are available for customers would help all the merchants.

  8. Unfortunately, it seems the letter objecting to the Pop-up Park has stirred up a good deal of negativity and animosity. That was certainly not its intent, nor from our point of view was there any desire to disparage parents who bring their children to town to shop in strollers or otherwise (In gingerbitz we limit strollers, but that is only because of our small size and lack of space, not because we have any issues with children). I also do not believe the merchants who placed their names on the letter are all experiencing business hardships. From my personal perspective, I simply do not believe the park brings people to town; it is a small diversion, not a significant draw like the outstanding Caffeine and Carburetors (which from a Public Relations and business perspective was illogically moved out of the heart of town to Waveny Park for a number of dates). Rather, for those residents and visitors coming to town, the Pop-up Park in its current location makes access to Elm Street more difficult, potentially inconveniencing patrons and limiting business. Why would we want to do that? The idea of a Pop-up park is not unappealing, but why not simply relocate it to the Morse Court parking lot rather than at the junction of the two busiest streets in town? Why would that location just a few feet off our main venues limit its use any more than in its current location? If this perspective is taken as sour grapes in any way, shape or form, then we’ve been sadly misinterpreted, because as a long time residents and now merchants in New Canaan, we only want what is best for the town.

    • I think your letter was taken as offensive for two reasons:
      1. The wording in general is a bit aggressive. And the comment about the “costco” furniture was very snooty

      And more importantly :
      2. There was ample time for the merchants to voice their opinion over the last three years. There were meetings and a committee vote. It was only AFTER the approval that you made your complaint, once the individuals had done the work to get it approved. That would be the time to have the discussion, not after the fact.

      Lastly, the arguments against the park are illogical based on the majority of opinion.

      Personally, I stay away from town during caffeine and carburetors. What a pain in the neck that event has become, too many people, too much traffic, so grateful it was moved.

  9. After having read all the comments thus far, I feel that it boils down to aesthetics and family vs. selfishness and inconvenience. It’s truly a shame that the negative has outgunned the positive. Yet another step backward for New Canaanites.

  10. A few thoughts on the Pop up controversy.One the definition of Pop Up is a short term installation something this was originally but then changed into long-term.We as merchants did not object to the concerts etc that took place if you read our letter our concerns were about traffic flow.I do not understand why the committee went for a all or nothing stand when all we were asking was for it to go back to the original concept. If we are in need of a permanent park why not find a location that does not block one of 2 ingresses to town.I am also appalled by the viciousness of some of the responses I have been a merchant in town for 30 years Jack Trifero Sandy Mellin and I founded the christmas stroll and I personally underwrote it financially in its beginning years so I do not consider myself a Grinch. Everyone should take a deep breath before they spew anymore invective and consider what the merchants of this town do for it.We support your charities,we give your children summer jobs, we keep the downtown looking great through our support of the beautification league, we create a unique shopping experience by not being a roofless mall,and yes we are here to make money because we too have families that we are supporting but on the whole we give back more than most merchants in other towns and we do so because we love our clients and our town. So take a deep breathe and read what you have written before you hit that send button. Diane Roth owner L’Armoire

    • Diane- I believe the vitriol surrounding your letter is more directed at the timing and the wording. I find the wording extremely offensive on several levels. The merchants had many opportunities to voice their opinion. It was only after the approval that you made your chess move. Seems underhanded and sneaky. I think if you tried to step back and objectively look at the comments about the kids, the costco furniture, and the timing, you might better understand where people are coming from.

  11. The merchants commenting in depth on this now is interesting. Clearly they thought making a big fuss in the first place wouldn’t lead to any backlash and now they are seeing the effects and are backtracking. No one is attacking anyone individually (although I fail to see how L’Armoire, which isn’t even on Elm Street and Gimgerbitz, which is on the end are somehow affected but that’s neither here nor there).

    It is about more than that. The letter was at times extremely critical of topics that quite frankly should not be griped about (wound up kids, Costco furniture?) and these people need to realize that when signing their name on something, they are signing the entire document, not just a portion.

    • “This area also contains 4-7 parking spaces, at given times, and a very important loading zone. We small businesses need our deliveries. We need as many parking spaces close to the shops as there possibly can be.” —Quote from the letter. They would like the pop up park moved to Morse court which last I checked was a PARKING LOT . I’m trying really hard to follow the logic but I am having difficulty. Pop up is bad because it takes up valuable parking spots – so move it to the Giant parking lot 10 feet away and take up even MORE valuable parking spots. Is that correct?

  12. Enough already. It should be all about compromise. Al Fresco dining was a great idea for the town but it was done in such a way to respect the use of sidewalks by both pedestrians and restaurant owners and I think it is safe to that the town is better off for it. This should be approached in the same way. Everyone has some valid points, agrees it is a good idea..so let’s sit down and figure out a way to make it work.

    • Thank you Tom Lewis! Agreed! Never did the letter to the Committee and the Chamber say that the idea of a Pop-Up-Park was a bad thing. A lot of us Merchants really liked it in the beginning and did not dismiss it right away. We spent three seasons studying it and its effects on our businesses. This letter was not drawn up lightly. Many of us did speak with different Committee members about our opposition over the years. However, we did not voice what was hurting us about the Pop-Up-Park publicly. In hind sight we should have.

      As for the few comments in the letter that have stuck, “wound-up children” and “Costco tables”, I apologize for this sounding harsh. It wasn’t any of our intentions to hurt people or to not seem grateful to all those people who did use the Pop-Up-Park as it was originally intended to be used. The letter was addressed to the Pop-Up-Park Committee and the Chamber of Commerce and we were very sincere in our appreciation of all they have done to try and help the merchants and the town. Had we thought about this letter going out to the public, I promise you, we would have certainly said Thank You to those families and individuals who did frequent the Park and used it as a home base for their shopping or their snacking.

      I am saddened by the comments of those who claim they will no longer support our businesses and will be happy to see us fail. To Tom’s point above, let’s not turn against one another and instead use this situation to come up with a solution that will benefit the town, its residents and its merchants. We welcome anything that adds to our downtown charm, we just want to make sure that it works for everyone.

  13. Thanks for that comment, Tom. Those interested in discussing this further, the Pop Up Park will be the main topic of conversation at our “Community Coffee” at 8 a.m. tomorrow: http://newcanaanite.com/new-canaan-event/please-join-us-first-ever-community-coffee-with-newcanaanite-com-at-8-a-m-friday We’re going to have this in the New Canaan Police Department, 1st floor, and ask that attendees park across the street at the Methodist Church lot. We’re inviting absolutely everyone and I’m reaching out to business owners downtown directly. Members of the Pop Up Park Committee will be in attendance.

  14. I find it funny that merchants who signed the letter are now back pedaling to traffic flow and appear genuinely surprised that the people they derided in their letter are now upset with them. Did they not read what their name was being signed to? Obviously they didn’t read all of the news about meetings and need for volunteers to put the park up and take it down every weekend. If they had, they would have spoken up at the opportunities provided for feedback and not now that they have opened Pandora’s box.

  15. Michael, The coffee was rather informative and it shed light on aspects of the park that didn’t seem apparent before or were not clearly brought forward. I personally had not read all the responses to this letter at the time of the meeting, so that I would be able to keep an open mind. The only thing I could do at the end of the meeting was give Tucker my hand and let her know that I was sorry about the way this had turned out and to let her know once again that should things change I would be pleased to assist Jeff holland and herself with set up and breakdown.
    It is my opinion that a new letter should be written and it should begin with: Dear Mrs. Murphy and the Chamber of Commerce, we the undersigned wish you to reconsider operating the pop up park on a weekend basis this year. What can we do to make it easier for you…?
    It has become obvious to me that some do not understand nor appreciate the amount of work Mrs. Murphy puts into our town and it’s businesses.

  16. @Sara/Lolapink if you’re reading this: We received the comments you submitted but when I emailed the AOL address you left on your account, my message was bounced back as Undeliverable. With more serious comments, I do need to verify that you are writing from a real email address, and I won’t approve the comment you submitted without it. I also need you to put at least a last initial after your name so it’s not just ‘Sara’ for the comment you submitted. Thanks, please email me at editor@newcanaanite.com so I can get your comment up on the site.

  17. I am glad the letter went public. No vendor should back pedal on the wording, you read it, you signed it. The audience should not matter, they are your words so please stand behind them.
    I would never wish harm on any store in town, some of the backlash is unfortunate. I participated in this discussion to explain to the 16 who signed the letter how the park helps their business with regards to my family’s usage. And to voice my disappointment in their wording, which I do find offensive. Lastly, the timing is a key issue. After the vote and approval seems like a really poor choice for the minority, albeit important minority, to put the plans to a halt.

    The efforts would be better served if there was a focus on the all day long double parking by your delivery trucks. It’s maddening. And the employee parking that is taking spaces away from customers.

    Btw. I love when south is closed from entering Elm! Cars that enter elm see a spot and barrel thru the stop
    Sign ALL THE TIME. So dangerous. Accident waiting to happen. As demonstrated here by my dash cam
    http://youtu.be/uaFtwznrihQ

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