Merchants at Odds Over Now-Uncertain Pop Up Park

The recent news that the Chamber of Commerce is no longer sponsoring the Pop Up Park has left its future uncertain. While volunteer organizers are scrambling to obtain permits, insurance and town approval, a 2015 debate of how the park affects local business has been reignited. We spoke to several businesses in the area to hear their thoughts. Helen Richards of Odesmith & Richards Boutique on South Avenue describes the park as a “pleasant idea” but in the “completely wrong place.” Her concerns revolve around how the park affects nearby businesses, saying “it blocks traffic and impedes commerce where it is.”

She referred to a letter written by area merchants a few years ago. “The merchants have been complaining about it for a long time,” she said.

Future of ‘Pop Up Park’ Uncertain After Some Merchants Voice Concerns

After a handful of merchants voiced concerns about how the Pop Up Park at South Avenue and Elm Street affects traffic and business, members of the municipal body that oversees street closures in New Canaan said Wednesday night that they’ll take the feedback into consideration in deciding on the future of the downtown amenity. No immediate decision is needed regarding the Pop Up Park, which saw part of the South Avenue’s first block cordoned off as a pedestrian-only space—with tables, chairs, WiFi, planters, grass, fountain and events—from the July 15 Sidewalk Sale to Labor Day. However, approval from the Police Commission is needed each “offseason” to get the volunteer-run Pop Up Park in place. Launched five years ago, the town had approved an all-summer run in 2015, but the Pop Up Park didn’t run at all that year after some merchants raised concerns. During the commission’s regular meeting Wednesday, some of those who long have said the park creates problems that hurt the downtown and its businesses reiterated their concerns.

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.