Commentary: Shut Down King Street to Auto Traffic and Let Businesses Use Sidewalks & Streets

By: Ken Schneider, Owner of Uncork Charleston

To help protect and save several downtown businesses from the coronavirus restrictions, I am proposing that the City of Charleston shuts down King Street from Broad Street up to Spring Street to all automotive traffic. It can first be done in a two-week trial period to see how it works out.

By doing this, it would let all restaurants, retail, and art galleries use all the sidewalk space and 1/3 of the street directly in front of their buildings for additional square footage. We keep the other 1/3 of King St for foot traffic. Businesses can move tables and products they are offering onto the sidewalk or street. This has been done for events like Second Sunday on King, and can be done again. We are not inventing the wheel, just trying to use it.

I believe that most people at this time would be more comfortable outside instead of inside with recirculated air. Of course, safe social distancing guidelines would still apply with tables being spaced 8 feet apart and all disinfecting done as well.

As most locations need to cut back on their occupancy, which cuts down on revenue for the store owners and ultimately the city, this suggestion allows all locations the opportunity to gain extra square footage in partnership with the city.

The shops can be responsible for providing some type of security (like a doorman or bouncer), and the city could provide police to monitor the street.

We all have to be in this together and be willing to try new and creative ideas to help save as many local businesses as possible. If businesses die, so does revenue for the city. If businesses shutter and multiple parts of King Street are boarded up or vacant, you have to ask yourself, "how does this affect tourism?". If that gets affected again, what does that do to the tax base? We need to make Charleston as attractive as possible.

Before COVID-19, there were many US cities that closed streets to traffic to allow just this type of thing.

I realize that people are concerned about what to do with the cars that normally would have parked on King Street. My thoughts are that we already are going to have less people coming down in the first place, and maybe the city can loosen residential parking rules nearby for a bit and see how it goes.

Will this proposal help save businesses? We won't know until we try, and we have to try. So many businesses are on the verge of failure and attempting to open with only 50% occupancy doesn't work. It may provide some revenue, but to operate at a loss just to open is still a recipe for disaster.

These are just my thoughts, but I have spoken to many on the street and they are willing to give it a try. Mayor John Tecklenberg even told me that it has come up for discussion, but unless the community pushes for this, the odds of it happening are slim.

I am not in any way saying that we sacrifice people's health and safety. If businesses are going to start to open, let's give them the best tools to open under the same safe social distancing guidelines.

I am asking anyone who feels that this idea/suggestion has legs to stand up and talk to as many folks as they can to help make this a reality.

About the writer

I am the owner of Uncork Charleston and I own many other businesses, which have survived many extreme economic, social, and political disasters. This is hands down the worst one and exponentially worse than any I have seen prior.

I do everything I can to ensure that all my employees have a safe, fun and profitable work environment and will never have any employee do anything that I wouldn't do myself, anything that would make them uncomfortable or unsafe. For me, it is about giving them an opportunity to work and earn a real living for themselves and their families.

10 comments

  1. Anonymous 10 May, 2020 at 20:46 Reply

    I think that is a very smart idea. European cities have long closed their inner city shopping streets off to traffic.
    The inner cities are thriving because of it, and people enjoy sitting outside and having a drink or dinner.

  2. KA 12 May, 2020 at 11:45 Reply

    I agree, like one of the other commentators said – this is done in cities all across Europe. It would be amazing to have restaurants be able to set up tables on the street & sidewalks, and we have the perfect weather for it.

  3. Roberto 13 May, 2020 at 09:44 Reply

    I’m agree. Where we can sign to support your idea.
    I placed my Gelato store for Sale. If this happens and the town supports more FREE parking places, we could avoid killing the historic downtown …..

  4. Hunter 13 May, 2020 at 11:00 Reply

    Let’s do it. Lived in Charlottesville, and they did this permanently to Main Street (i.e., made the street lined with historic buildings pedestrian only) at least 25 years ago. It’s known as the Downtown Mall, and has been immensely successful, transforming it into the city’s bustling nightlife, entertainment and cultural center. I’ve long thought this was a good model for King Street.

  5. Graham S 14 May, 2020 at 11:42 Reply

    I have thought this would be a good idea long before the coronavirus! I vary rarely turn onto and drive down King Street and almost immediately regret it. It is very easy to avoid by taking Meeting and cutting over when necessary. I think it would be a great idea to close King off to vehicle traffic and make it a pedestrian thoroughfare. That is great for business at any time. Of course, in this particular time, it would be easier to rout pedestrians down the middle and allow restaurants to rope off a “patio” on the sidewalk–it’s a win-win for the city both near and long term.

  6. Shawn McKay 14 May, 2020 at 23:03 Reply

    I can’t think of a good reason to not try this, and thank you for the article Ken Schneider! Parking can be handled by the incredibly successful HOP (Hospitality on Peninsula). I look forward to hearing what our community can do to push for this.

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