Snow and sidewalks. It’s a combination we here on Sag Harbor’s Main Street know all too well every winter. During big storms, it can be difficult for business and building owners to keep up with demand. Shoveling, salting, then watching as more of the white stuff comes down or, worse yet, the standing water freezes into a unexpected ice rink, necessitating a repeat of the process.
Yet it’s something that owners of Main Street buildings are expected, in fact, required to do. And it’s a system that works well enough.
Except at those times when it doesn’t, which these days is often.
Long gone is the era when the guy who owned the building was the same guy running the business on the ground floor who would go out to shovel snow. As we all know, there are fewer and fewer people living here year round, particularly those fortunate enough to own commercial buildings on Main Street. And fewer and fewer of those owners are operating their own businesses out of their buildings. In fact, most of them are now landlords for tenant businesses, and there are those businesses who are often closed during the height of the winter season.
But still, birds gotta fly, pedestrians gotta walk. In winter, that means traversing a sidewalk with a stretch of nicely shoveled and salted concrete followed by a series of mine fields consisting of snowy banks, hard crust or the dreaded and barely visible sheen of widow maker ice.
Often it’s easier, and safer, to just walk down the middle of the street. Not a great option, particularly if cars and trucks are slipping and sliding on the road too. Which is why we feel it’s time for the village to take on the task of clearing the business district’s sidewalks in the aftermath of winter storms.
First off, we understand the village’s reluctance to add this to their list of responsibilities. After all, the department of public works folks have plenty to deal with in just clearing the streets after a big snow. They also have a limited budget — money to pay for crew and equipment to remove snow from business district sidewalks is simply not in the coffers.
But we propose a simple solution — a business improvement district that all commercial property owners in downtown Sag Harbor would be a part of. Through that improvement district, funding could be collected to take on initiatives like sidewalk clearing following winter storms.
This is a win/win for everyone — not only those businesses that do stay open year round and want to make it easy for their customers to come and go, thereby encouraging them to spend more time on Main Street, but from a liability point of view.
After all, what happens if a sidewalk remains untouched while a building owner is away for the winter or a business is closed for the season and someone attempting to traverse the passage in front of the storefront slips on ice or snow and gets seriously injured.
Who would get sued?
In this litigious society of ours, the correct answer is “everyone.” Which is why it’s in the best interest of the village, which actually owns the sidewalks, and building owners to come up with a solution like a business improvement district.
But this is not just a mechanism to pay for snow removal. A fund like this can also be used for things like security, capital improvements, streetscape enhancements and even marketing.
East Hampton Village is one municipality that does clear its business district sidewalks—technically village property—after snowstorms. We think it’s about time Sag Harbor followed suit, if not through its own highway department budget, then through a funding mechanism like a business improvement district.
Let’s face it, Sag Harbor has a far more active Main Street in winter than many nearby villages, largely due to its vibrant restaurant and bar scene, and accessible stores that cater to year-round residents, and visitors alike. But it’s vital that patrons of all businesses in Sag Harbor be able to get there safely — even if it’s just making it from the car to the front door.