One of West Chester’s most popular streets will soon be transformed into an "open air marketplace” as the region starts to recover from the COVID-19 crisis, Mayor Dianne Herrin said Wednesday.

“The real, underlying motivation here was to provide a place where people can physically distance and feel safe coming back to our town and dining and shopping,” she said.

The West Chester Borough Council approved the plan to close Gay Street to cars, Herrin said in a Facebook post Wednesday. A special council meeting was held Tuesday “to discuss the plan to close four blocks of Gay Street from Matlack to Darlington Streets for the purpose of allowing outside dining.”

Restaurants can extend table seating into the street, and retailers are permitted to set up tents for shoppers, she said. Hand sanitizer will be available.

Blockage will be enforced by Jersey barriers, while cross streets will stay open to allow for traffic flow, Herrin said.

Just a few weeks ago, I started the Main Street Strong Task Force consisting of 36 members from every sector of our...

Posted by Mayor Dianne Herrin on Wednesday, June 10, 2020

The timeline is dependent upon Pennsylvania Department of Transportation approval, Herrin said, but she hopes the street closure could happen in a week or two.

“We’re going to monitor it, we’re going to refine it, we’re going to see how it goes,” Herrin said. “If it goes well, we may then consider just keeping it closed.”

Gay Street is home to many shops and restaurants, including Kildare’s Irish Pub, Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant, and the Couch Tomato Cafe.

The idea was first discussed during a council meeting late last month as the region anticipated moving into a “yellow” reopening phase, the West Chester Daily Local News reported.

A mayoral task force presented a “commercial business district recovery plan” to the council, which can be viewed online.

“We hope that West Chester remains a destination for shopping and dining in our region and, as residents, look forward to the opportunity to enjoy our beautiful and vibrant town again now that the COVID-19 restrictions are beginning to roll back," Borough Council President Michael Galey said in a statement.

Other cities have adopted similar plans. Cincinnati and Tampa, Fla., let restaurants expand into the streets earlier this year. Advocates in Philadelphia are leading a push for the city to rethink public spaces during the pandemic by way of a “Recovery Streets” plan proposed last month.

Restaurants are adjusting to a new normal. Guests need to wear masks when they’re not seated, and only outside seating is allowed.