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Debbie Serdy, owner of My Aunt Debbie, is the only retail shop that took advantage when Lancaster city offered expedited permits that allowed retailers to set up shop outside after the Coronavirus on Wednesday, October 22, 2020.

Debbie Serdy says having a colorful product display on the sidewalk outside her Lancaster city shop has been a nice benefit, drawing in customers, brightening the streetscape and offering a little boost to her business.

“For me it worked out perfectly. I have a rack of clothing outside and it’s been fantastic,” said Serdy, who owns My Aunt Debbie, a vintage clothing and housewares shop at 336 N. Queen St.

The shop’s sidewalk display was possible this year because of a July city ordinance that offered free permits for outdoor retailing as a way to help merchants impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Yet while Serdy said she’s thankful the city offered an outdoor retailing option this year, she’s the only storekeeper that took advantage of it.

“Maybe it is because I’m one of the smaller shops in the city — my shop is only 400 square feet — so maybe it’s just easier,” Serdy said after being told no one else participated.

In addition to only having one merchant sign up, the city never set up any “public retail areas” that were allowable in the ordinance. Nevertheless, at one of its two meetings next month — the second or fourth Tuesday, city council is expected to consider an extension of the program that is now set to expire at the end of the year. Possible changes to the program would be discussed then.

“COVID has created such an uncertain environment for businesses and the city’s interest is in supporting businesses,” said Jess King, chief of staff for Lancaster Mayor Danene Sorace. “We were glad to respond to the request for outdoor retail and are committed to helping in any way we can.”

‘A valuable option’

Marshall Snively, president of the Lancaster City Alliance which promoted the outdoor retailing ordinance, says he’s not necessarily surprised more people didn’t sign up, saying shops that had reduced staffing due to the pandemic may have been reluctant to add outdoor areas.

“I still think it is a valuable option whether merchants can do it now or in the future. This type of flexibility and support is critical in supporting our small businesses,” he said.

Rebecca Addington, owner of Ville + Rue at 101 N. Queen St., said she thought about putting some items outside but decided she was too short-staffed to monitor a sidewalk display.

“We would potentially be interested in doing this next year in a more ‘open market’ setting where several retailers would be, in order to gain foot traffic,” she said.

Marty Hulse, owner of Building Character and Madcap & Co. in the 300 block of North Queen Street, said he was put off the permit application which requires a sketch of the proposed outdoor area as well as an insurance certificate that names the city as an additional insured and guarantees liability insurance of at least $100,000 per individual and $300,000 per occurrence.

“While the sentiment was nice, I'd prefer the city use some resources to heavily promote our open businesses and get the visitor's center back open to welcome people back to the city,” he said.