Downtown improvements on officials’ minds

Maria Zaldumbide surveys downtown Beacon Falls from her tailor shop, Maria’s Alterations, on June 30. -LARAINE WESCHLER/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

BEACON FALLS — Town leaders are looking at ways to improve downtown without spending a lot of money.

First Selectman Christopher Bielik said the big stakeholders in town will meet with engineering firm DeCarlo & Doll to discuss adding angled parking along Main Street.

The firm was hired by Citizens for Tomorrow’s Downtown about a decade ago to develop a plan for Main Street revitalization. However, that plan was never implemented because it was too expensive.

Bielik said it’s time to dust off the plan and see if there’s a way to implement some of its elements in a less costly manner without expensive excavation.

“How inexpensively can we do something and still have it have an impact,” Bielik said.

Jeremy Rodorigo, vice chairman of the Economic Development Commission, said parking and blight are the two concerns he’s heard the most from downtown merchants.

“We know there’s a lot of real estate downtown that is being wasted on a two lane old highway,” Rodorigo said.

Maria Zaldumbide, owner of the tailor shop Maria’s Alterations on Main Street, said parking is the biggest problem. She also said she was scared that drivers don’t slow down when people cross the crosswalk in front of her store.

“That’s my biggest fear, to see someone killed right there,” Zaldumbide said, noting she’d witnessed several close encounters.

John Gorman of New Era Barber Shop had a laundry list of things that could be improved.

“This downtown is absolutely horrific,” he said.

Gorman said the town should take out the median, reduce the road to one lane, and cut the speed down to 25 mph. He said the town should add parking and parking meters to generate revenue. He also wanted to knock down the “moldy” yellow house next door, which he said is an eyesore.

“It looks like we’ve got snakes in our road,” Gorman said, noting the seals along cracks in the street.

At Beacon Falls Pizza Palace next door, owner Peter Hatczidimitriou said he doesn’t need more parking, but more businesses up in the industrial park to help ease the tax burden on everyone else.

He said the small town can’t support more than one of each type of business.

Hatczidimitriou said he’d like a grant to fix up the front of his restaurant and a sign on Route 8 to draw people downtown.

Locals drive out of town for their needs, he said, instead of supporting local businesses.

Janet Lanci of Beacon Falls Counseling also said she’d like more local support and more parking.

“I don’t feel like the town really supports any of the business,” Lanci said.

She suggested the town send out a weekly email newsletter with business updates or hold a window decorating contest for the holidays. Small gestures like that would draw attention to local businesses, she said.

The first few years she was in business, Lanci said she sent Christmas cards to all the businesses in town, but never got any in response. She said she offered free services for volunteer firefighters and Town Hall employees in case of a crises, but never got so much as a “thank you.”

“Everyone has a business, but it’s not necessarily community,” she said. “We’re kind of just independent people acting on our own. I’m isolated.”

While she loves Beacon Falls, Lanci said it’s not as warm as her native Alabama.

“It would be great if we could find some way to tie us all together,” Lanci said.

Rodorigo said the town’s zoning enforcement officer is working on the blight issue.

“It’s a difficult thing,” Rodorigo said.

Although the town has a blight ordinance, courts tend to side with the property owners, granting them numerous extensions to clean up their properties and dragging the process out, he said.

The curb appeal of the town matters, Rodorigo said.

“We’re doing the best we can with what we have,” Rodorigo said. “Every little improvement helps, but it doesn’t go as fast as we would hope it would go.”