When Tom Bernabei turns 74 in July, the affable Canton mayor knows there will be plenty of summer left for people to keep coming back to downtown.
But Bernabei isn’t going to wait until then.
The mayor is tearing down bureaucratic walls to make the city flexible when it comes to aiding downtown businesses. When Gov. Mike DeWine announced restaurants could open to patio dining, the Jacob Family, which runs Bender’s, asked about shutting down Court Avenue to open it for outdoor seating. Weather permitting, the mayor plans to eat there this weekend.
But that’s not all the city is planning to do to encourage people to return to downtown as various sectors of our economy begin to reopen amid a pandemic.
“We had a meeting with (Canton Special Improvement District President) Mike Gill, who surveyed bars and restaurants to find out what areas we could help them from the city,” Bernabei said. “It turns out, most of the areas we can’t help them with right now. But we intend to continue to be more flexible and helpful in any way we can to assist in their reopening and the success of their reopening.”
Then a handful of other requests came in to put tables on sidewalks outside of establishments. The city waived time-consuming permit applications and granted the requests.
Bernabei is 73, which places him in one of the most vulnerable coronavirus age groups. However, he isn’t letting that stop him from running the city and setting an example for people to start finding a new social normal.
“Common sense practices and social distancing are very important,” Bernabei said. “We aren’t requiring people to wear masks, but we are recommending it. You’re protecting other people from the germs you spread by wearing a mask. Using hand sanitizer whenever you can is important. I feel very comfortable in almost every social scenario as long as you’re following the proper health protocols.”
What else is the city planning?
The mayor said there was a meeting Friday morning to talk about closing down more streets when it makes sense to encourage outdoor dining. For example, you might see Second or Third or Fourth streets closed to allow restaurants to seat people outside. The private alley between the Historic Onesto Lofts and the parking deck seems to be a perfect area for the Conestoga to have outdoor dining and perhaps music.
What the mayor is hoping to see is a real First Friday downtown in a couple of weeks on June 5.
“We anticipate the same rules for social gatherings will be in place,” Bernabei said. “They have been having virtual First Fridays and we’d like to see a real First Friday come June and maybe have something comparable to what ArtsinStark did before and rather than having it once a month, do it more frequently.”
Various groups have been anticipating the reopening — slowly but surely and in concert with state health department orders — of downtown’s entertainment scene. You might not see a concert inside the Palace Theatre, but necessity is mother of invention and creative thinking, as the saying goes.
“We would be pleased to look at any ideas,” the mayor said.
And he has set up an email address for your ideas. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org
The best thing I ate ...
I don’t think they intended to name COVID-19 after the 19 pounds one can easily gain while working from home, or maybe it’s all the carryout food we’ve been trying, but some downtown spots have come up with very good and very affordable menu items. Last week, we got the Mother’s Day backyard barbecue with racks of ribs, pounds of green beans, redskin potatoes, rolls, Grecian salad and cannolis, chocolate-covered strawberries for $85 from Conestoga. It was enough to feed a dozen and we kept eating leftovers all week.
The other thing I’ve learned: No one’s food travels better than Basil’s.
Ahh, the Canton Inn
In an effort to let people know just how much of Canton police officers’ time is being monopolized by the rundown, hell hole Canton Inn ... police have been called to the place 45 times since Jan. 1 and that includes a very slow March and April. I’m sure the folks running the place used March and April to spruce the place up. Every time I drive past it, I can’t help but think “is the coronavirus the worst thing I could catch there?”