Great Falls pedlet program gets national attention; pedlet season opens May 1 with new Pedlet Passport

Pedlet season starts May 1 and Great Falls’ pedlet program has garnered national attention.

The first pedlet opened at Might Mo Brewing Company in 2017 and this year, there will be more pedlets downtown plus the “suspendlet,” a second story balcony at Elevation 3330 on Central Avenue.

The pedlets are extensions of the sidewalk around sidewalk dining into parking spaces to allow businesses to provide fenced outdoor seating.

This year’s program also includes a new Pedlet Passport from the Business Improvement District.

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Pedlet Passports can be picked up at the Downtown Association office at 318 Central Ave. or any of the five participating locations:

  • Burger Bunker – 24 5th Street South
  • Celtic Cowboy – 116 1st Avenue South
  • Elevation 3330 – 410 Central Ave, 2nd floor
  • Enbar – 8 5th Street South
  • Mighty Mo – 412 Central Ave

Participants must acquire a stamp at each participating location, but no purchase is required. Once the passport has five stamps, participants can turn in their completed passport at their final location or at the Downtown office. Passports will be collected and a drawing will be held for prizes including gift certificates. Winners will be notified by June 14.

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In late March, Joan Redeen and Kellie Pierce presented about the downtown pedlet program at the National Main Street Now Conference in Seattle.

Redeen is the community director of the Business Improvement District and Pierce is the operations director for the Downtown Great Falls Association.

Great Falls was the second city nationwide to officially open a pedlet, after Redeen read an article about the first pedlet in West Allis, Wisconsin.
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Redeen went to Seth Swingley at Mighty Mo Brewing Company in 2016 and with the help of an $8,000 grant from the Montana Main Street Program to promote walkable downtown public spaces and outdoor dining space, the city’s first pedlet was open in May 2017.

Pedlet season opens in Great Falls on May 1 and runs through the fall.

Pedlets are now at Mighty Mo, Enbar, the Celtic Cowboy, Burger Bunker and the “suspendlet” at Elevation 3330.

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The Electric tagged along to the Main Street conference and attended the pedlet session presented by Pierce and Redeen.

“I thought this was going to be easy,” based on the information from West Allis, Redeen said during the presentation.

But it got more complicated since the pedlet was planned for a parking space in a public right of way. Pedlets have to meet requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as other city, state and federal requirements; and contractors have to be able to work in the public right of way, which adds to their cost, Redeen said.

“This project involved lots of collaboration,” Redeen said told the full room in Seattle.

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The BID funded the first pedlet, including construction, maintenance, moving and storage in the winter months. The Mo pays for the furniture, staffing, Department of Revenue fees and other expenses.

Redeen said they had to meet the state regulation for alcohol sales, which requires the outdoor dining area to be enclosed.

With the success of the Mighty Mo’s pedlet, they started to expand the program and in addition to the new pedlets, a handful of other downtown businesses continue to express interest, Redeen said.

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In late April, Redeen told the Downtown Development Partnership in Great Falls that several other communities who listened to their pedlet presentation in Seattle had reached out for more information.

Last year, the BID offered $7,500 pedlet grants. Burger Bunker, the Celtic Cowboy, Enbar and the suspendlet at Elevation 3330 were the grant recipients.

Pierce said that the Mo saw a 35 percent increase in sales their first summer.

“People love the concept of outdoor dining,” Pierce said.

Before the pedlets, there wasn’t much outdoor dining in downtown, though city code already allowed for sidewalk cafes with a free permit.

The Mo’s pedlet is 40 feet by six feet wide and cost $12,000 to construct; Enbar’s pedlet is 24 feet long by six feet wide for $11,000; Burger Bunker’s is 22 feet long by six feet wide for $10,000 and the Celtic Cowboy’s is 36 feet long by six feet wide for $13,000, Redeen and Pierce said in Seattle.

The Celtic Cowboy’s has shamrocks for the feet of the railing to tie into their Irish theme.

It’s a great advertising mechanism for the downtown businesses, Pierce said.

The breweries told Pierce and Redeen that business typically slowed in the summer since people take advantage of Montana’s great outdoors, but the pedlets increased business.

Enbar was able to pay for their pedlet with in the first month of it being open, Pierce said, to exclamations of “wow” from the conference attendees.

Lindsey Wallace, senior manager for special projects at the National Main Street Center, said, ” Great Falls is leading the way with pedlets.”

Wallace said the Montana Main Street program is strong and that “a lot of cutting edge work is going on in Montana.”

“Great Falls has been the community Tash keeps pointing to as being innovative in placemaking,” Wallace said. “It’s a really cool thing.”

Tash Wisemiller manages the Montana Main Street program within the Montana Department of Commerce.

Wallace said that with limited resources and environmental challenges, the Montana Main Street programs, including Great Falls,” have found innovative ways to create vibrant spaces.

Redeen said it also helps combat the perception that downtown is dead when anyone passing through downtown sees people outside at pedlets and they’re hearing that people feel safe there.
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The goal, Redeen said, is to get a coffee shop to open a pedlet so that most hours of the day would have at least one pedlet open.

Panhandlers were initially a problem at the Mo’s pedlet, but the Mo hired additional staff to focus on the pedlet and the problem subsided, Redeen said.
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At first, confused people walked into the street to go around the pedlet entirely, but they’ve since installed signs and people have caught on to how the pedlet works, Redeen said.

Communities will have different requirements, so Redeen and Pierce suggested that other downtown organizations find a willing business owner and then work through the regulations to establish pedlets in their towns.
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A conference attendee asked Pierce and Redeen about push back from pedlets taking up parking spaces.

Businesses with pedlets pay for the parking spaces for the months the pedlet is installed, but there was some initial pushback, Redeen said.

A business across from Enbar has complained about the impact to parking availability and a dress shop near the Mighty Mo was upset. In that case, the brewery owners invited her for a sip and shop event, Redeen and Pierce said.

Attendees also had questions about alcohol sales, stormwater and if the pedlets had acted as traffic calming measures.
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Redeen said they fall under Department of Revenue regulations for alcohol sales and they’ve added reflectors to the pedlets. They’ve seen some people slow down to look at pedlets, but locals have gotten used to them and don’t slow down much anymore.

Pedlets can’t block access to storm drains so the businesses and downtown groups had to work with the city public works department.
The pedlets have been constructed out of ewood, which is a plastic wood made largely of recycled materials.
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The Mo’s pedlet is stored at Park and Recreation under an agreement with the city. Park and Rec needed to move the pedlet to access equipment for the Ice Breaker so Mighty Mo had permission to install their pedlet early this spring.

Others are required to store the pedlets themselves and many of them have basements for storage. The Celtic Cowboy stores theirs in their parking garage, Redeen and Pierce said.

They’re working on options for constructing pedlets in areas with angled parking, but it’s doable, Redeen said.

The BID, city and the businesses carry the liability for the pedlets.

Craig Raymond, city planning director, said that the city applies standards through the processing of applications to make sure those details regarding stormwater, ADA accessibility and traffic safety are addressed. Since the pedlets are on public property they aren’t subject to property tax, Raymond said.