ROCKFORD, Mich., (WOOD) — The social zone in downtown Rockford could look different as it returns to Main Street this fall.
Social zones were built in several cities across West Michigan to help bars and restaurants survive during the coronavirus pandemic. In the social zones, patrons are permitted to buy and consume alcoholic beverages and walk around with them in hand.
The zones also allowed for additional space for dine-in customers when COVID-19 restrictions called for fewer people to be indoors at establishments.
In November 2020, the city of Rockford rolled out its social zone. The area is called the Rockford Outdoor Refreshment Area. The area spans Main Street between Bridge Street and Courtland Street and includes several bars, restaurants and shops.
“It was not just a place to gather, but it was just beautiful. It was like a Hallmark (movie),” Mary Inman, the store manager of Glik’s in downtown Rockford, said.
The social zone shut down Main Street last year. The city allowed restaurants to seat customers in the roadway and installed fire pits. Business owners say it attracted people from all over.
“People don’t know what Rockford has to offer. We have so many amazing shops. There’s so many really great things that we offer and people who are 15 minutes away in Grand Rapids, they don’t know about that,” Lisa Miller, who owns LA Miller Boutique on Bridge Street, said.
As RORA returns this year, it may look different. City Council met on Monday to discuss whether they would close Main Street again for businesses to use. There is also some discussion about partially closing the road.
While the Rockford Chamber of Commerce says there are some businesses that would prefer the road stay open, the majority they surveyed were in favor of closing the street for RORA.
“I would really love to see it shut down for Christmas and people could meet there and eat there and have fun there and it’s just fun to be outside,” Candis Lancioni said.
Lancioni owns Aunt Candy’s Toy Company on Courtland Street. She says having the extra foot traffic was especially important when business was slow due to COVID-19.
“I think it really saved a lot of our restaurants and I think it saved a lot of our stores too,” Lancioni added.
Some owners say they hope to see the RORA street closure return for the holidays at least.
“It was a really nice addition. To be able to see that happen during the holiday season again, it would be nice and I think it would be good for our town,” Miller said.
Businesses say they hope the community will still show up to support in the same way despite what council decides.
“Maybe some people are for it, maybe some people are unhappy with it, but the main thing is we have to be sensitive all the way around. It’s not one way or the other. We’re a community, we have to work together,” Inman said.
Rockford City Council is expected to discuss the issue and vote at their upcoming meeting.