Interview with Karen Barone
Conducted by Ellen Simon
November 5, 2007
Karen Barone, Main Street Manager of the Downtown Carlisle Association, works to revitalize and improve business in downtown Carlisle. Her experience, insight and knowledge on issues that impact small business communities is remarkable. In my interview with Mrs. Barone, we discuss the state of business in downtown Carlisle, Carlisle’s current revitalization efforts, and the impact of traffic in downtown Carlisle.
MS. SIMON: How long have you lived in Carlisle?
MRS. BARONE: I have lived in Carlisle for two and a half years now.
MS. SIMON: Where did you live before that?
MRS. BARONE: Harrisburg.
MS. SIMON: Were you familiar with Carlisle before you moved here?
MRS. BARONE: Yes, I grew up in Waynesboro, which is about an hour south of here, so I was familiar with this area in general.
MS. SIMON: Has it changed a lot over the years?
MRS. BARONE: Yes, I think it has. It has a reputation for having one of the nicest downtowns in our area. I think you can really see that when you look at [it] now [compared to how it was] ten years ago [and consider] the amount of money that has been reinvested into the downtown into rehabbing buildings and things like that. You can really tell that this is a community that cares very deeply about its downtown. You don’t see that in a lot of communities. In the region Carlisle just has the reputation of having a really cool downtown and being a really great place.
MS. SIMON: Would you say that that’s the prevailing conception of Carlisle in Central Pennsylvania?
MRS. BARONE: I think there are others. Other perceptions are that Carlisle is the truck stops out at Middlesex. A lot of people see the exit for Carlisle and get there and are like, ‘oh this place is a dump.’ It’s all truck stops, you know? [Laughs]. So I think the people who don’t come the whole way into town think that’s Carlisle. Also, there were a lot of things in the press from a lot of race issues. The Klan came to Carlisle.
MS.SIMON: How long ago?
MRS. BARONE: In 2000 and… maybe 2002, somewhere in there. Not that long ago. They staged a hate rally in the square and the community staged a Unity Rally at Dickinson at the same time because they didn’t want people to go to… you know, like don’t feed the flames of the Klan. Don’t go. Let’s have this Unity Rally at Dickinson and be proactive. That made big news in this area. So then that perception is out there that there’s a race issue. Those kinds of problems in the down—you know in Carlisle. So you hear a lot of different things like that.
MS. SIMON: I had no idea about that. That’s very interesting. Was it people from Carlisle who formed the Klan or was it members from outside?
MRS. BARONE: Of course, the Klan is all hooded so you don’t know who they are. It was just that they were coming and they were going to stage this rally. And they have a right to as freedom of speech and everything like that. So you don’t know who they were, where they were from. No idea. And again, that was before I moved here, but I remember my dad telling me about. He had read about it in the news in Waynesboro; I heard about it in Harrisburg. It was big news for this area.
MS. SIMON: Yea. Wow. Okay, switching gears a little bit. Will you please tell me a little about what you do as the Main Street Manager?
MRS. BARONE: Sure. The Downtown Carlisle Association is part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s National Main Street Center. The Main Street Center was formed in 1980 as a way of giving communities the tools to revitalize and bring business back to their downtowns. In the 70s, the strip malls were starting to be built, and so a lot of business was really hurt in their downtowns. A lot of people at that time moved to more rural areas. There was a lot of development going on. People weren’t all in the hub of their downtown. A lot of women went back to work. In the history of America, we had never seen that amount of women working. So there weren’t people home during the day to do the shopping and to come downtown. A lot of things were happening in that time period for America and it completely changed how the downtowns were. This Main Street Movement started in 1980 in the Midwest and it was a way to help communities revitalize their town. The Downtown Association was started in 1981, so it’s one of the oldest continuous running Main Street Programs in the country. We’ve been established for twenty-six years now. What I do as the Main Street Manager is work to help in our piece of revitalization. We focus on things like design issues, for example, streetscapes and facades, safety, and lighting. We look at all of these things to help improve the downtown. We look at economic development issues like attracting new businesses to the downtown by helping the businesses here and providing incentives and grant programs. We do promotions for the downtown through dining, shopping guides, maps, and events which promote the whole downtown, as well as member businesses because we are a membership organization. My job is sort of to gather that all up and oversee that project as it moves forward.
MS. SIMONE: Do you also work with the Carlisle Chamber of Commerce?
MRS. BARONE: We do. We are separate organizations, but we partner with them a great deal. It’s sort of like a series of concentric circles. The Downtown Association’s sole and complete focus is on the downtown. The Carlisle Chamber looks at the overall Carlisle area and some of the townships around the area and recruits business and industry to this area. Then you go one concentric circle out further and you get to Cumberland County Economic Development, which looks at the overall county. We all do economic development, but in different ways, and our focus is different.
MS. SIMON: Do you interact with businesses in Carlisle by recruiting them and helping them with their storefronts?
MRS. BARONE: We started a program this year that is very new. Most downtowns do not have this. It is a retail recruitment program. We actually hired a person who is dedicated just to retail recruitment. This is something that the malls would normally do to fill storefronts. Most downtowns don’t do this because they’re all independent businesses. It’s hard to lead a downtown in one direction when you’ve got all these independent players who are going with it. So what we did through the High-I partnership, which Dickinson led, they hired a consultant, a retail consultant named Midge McCauley. Midge came and studied our town and every single storefront and every single property to evaluate each one to say, ‘Okay, this storefront has good signage, but they need better lighting. This is an office in a storefront, they shouldn’t even be here. This should be converted back to a storefront.’ We went over all that, and then from what we have here, she created a retail mix. That plan pretty much says, ‘Okay, you’ve got the start of some really great art galleries and antiques on North Hanover. You’ve already got them here. Let’s attract businesses that are related to art galleries or antiques and get them into that street to fill the vacancies in that street. And that’s kind of the theme for that street. West High Street surprisingly has very few retail spaces that are actually retail spaces. So we need to take back some of these storefronts that are offices, or otherwise, and make them retail again. But we say, ‘Okay, this is a great opportunity for college related things. This is the gateway to Dickinson and the main way that college students are going to come downtown, so we need to fill this street with things that college students are interested in, like music stores or cool boutique stores, or things like that.’ Then you look at Pomfret Street and that has some really cool things going already with art, galleries, and restaurants. That just has to keep doing what it’s doing. So we have this huge mix plan.
From that, we hired Vanessa Fiorentino, who is the retail recruiter. After studying the mix plan, and studying under Midge, she goes out to other communities that are in a two hour radius of Carlisle and visits those towns to see what they’re doing right. Let’s say there is a retailer there who is fabulous. She’ll say to them ‘Okay, you know what? You’ve really got it going on. You’ve got great merchandise, you’ve got great marketing, you’re a quality, quality retailer. You’ve got your signage, your lighting, you’ve got it going. Have you thought about opening a second store in Carlisle? It’s just two hours away. The distance is pretty close, you know?’ So she’s been visiting with hundreds and hundreds of retailers for the last nine months. Now, her success rate is pretty good. She’s had, I think half a dozen, maybe a dozen retailers come to Carlisle to check it out after she has visited them, which is fabulous. She’s had about a half a dozen of the dozen who came started looking for spaces. Four of them are in contract negotiations, and one of them is already opened. So, in nine months, that’s pretty amazing because they told us to expect it to take at least two years before we got our first store opened from this project. So, the project is working very well. Like I said, that’s a new program for us.
Most downtowns are not out there aggressively doing this. But you know, we’re in a position where we can’t wait for business to come to us. We have to take control of our downtown and go out there and say, ‘You know what? We need a really cool jewelry store in this location. I’m going to find it. We need a really cool art store in this location, and I’m going to find it.’ So, Vanessa works with the property owners who are already here, who have the spaces, and tries to really encourage them not to just take anybody, and that’s hard. If you have an empty storefront, you just want it filled. You want someone paying the rent. You want them to be a good tenant, but you don’t care what they’re selling as long as it’s legal. You just want it filled. So Vanessa is trying to talk to these property owners and say ‘Look. We have a plan. For the first time, we have a plan. Work with me on this plan. Don’t put just anybody in there. Work with me to get the right person in there. Their [the right retailer’s] sales per square footage will go through the roof. You’ll be able to charge more rent so your property values will increase. But work with me and don’t just put anyone in there.’ So again, these are all independent people, so that’s really hard to do.
MS. SIMON: Yes. That’s so exciting. What’s the one store that’s already opened up?
MRS. BARONE: Calucci and Company, which is at the Farmers Market.
MS. SIMON: Yeah, I really want to go there. They have beautiful stuff.
MRS. BARONE: That was one of her stores that she brought in.
MS. SIMON: I was so excited to see that there. I think I’m going to be doing some Christmas shopping there.
MRS. BARONE: They were in a location that they didn’t like, and it wasn’t even public yet that they were starting to look [for another space]. They were starting to look for another location and Vanessa just happened to hit them at the right time and she said ‘Hey! Why don’t you come check out Carlisle? We have this Farmer’s Market. It would be a great location for you right in the front?’ And it just worked out.
MS. SIMON: That’s great. How does traffic effect business in downtown Carlisle in terms of what she’s doing in trying to recruit new stores to come into Carlisle?
MRS. BARONE: Um….
MS. SIMON: I mean do you feel that it does?
MRS. BARONE: Absolutely it does. And not always in a good way. When you start reading and researching traffic in downtowns, it blows your mind how much literature there is, how much incredibly boring literature there is. You just can’t think it could be this hard. And I think that’s what’s so interesting. A lot of the problems that face downtown, people think that ‘Well, duh, just do this.’ If it were that easy, we’d have solved it by now. These are tough situations and tough challenges. What you do here affects here, and this affects this, and it has that ripple effect that nothing is in a vacuum. If you change one thing here, it has ramifications everywhere else. So when you look at traffic, there’s different ways communities handle traffic. Some of them said, ‘You know what? We’re just going to make it a pedestrian downtown. We’ll put a bypass in because traffic’s just terrible. We’ll put a bypass in, and cars don’t have to come downtown. It’s just a walking downtown, you can’t drive through it.’ In some of them, they found over the years that that strategy has really hurt them because there’s nobody driving by.
Carlisle’s in an interesting situation because we’re surrounded by 81 and the turnpike. We have two state roads that go right straight through our downtown, so in some ways it limits us as to what we can do, and how we handle traffic. Because they’re state roads of course, you have to work with PennDOT, and the state has to approve. Now, PennDot has become a kinder, gentler PennDot, in the last few years, and they’ve actually started to realize that our roads should be for something else other than moving as much traffic through as fast as possible. [They’ve started to realize] that it’s not just about motor vehicles. It’s about pedestrians, and it’s about bicyclists, and other modes of transportation. But they way we’ve designed our roads and the way we’ve designed our downtown, vehicular traffic is all we care about. You can tell by the way it was designed and the way it was laid out. That’s the way people thought twenty years ago. So, it’s such a complicated issue. But here’s the bottom line. The way it is now with two lanes of traffic in each direction and the speeds at which people can go make it almost impossible for [anyone] to actually see what’s on the sides. You don’t notice the stores when you drive through because you’re driving so fast. You have two lanes of traffic and pedestrians shooting out at you, so it’s all you can do not to hit somebody else. You’re not noticing the stores and that’s not a good thing.
The other thing is the streets are so wide that visually you don’t notice the other side of the street. And a lot of people wonder ‘why are the streets as wide as they are?’ And they say ‘Well the train went through town or the trolley went through town, and that’s why it’s so wide.’ Well, the streets were designed in the 1700s before the trains and the trolleys. I only just found out recently why the streets are as wide as they are. It’s because Carlisle was patterned after Carlisle, England. Promfret Street and Louther Street are streets in Carlisle, England. The old jail that we have on East High Street on the corner of East High and Bedford is exactly like the old jail in Carlisle, England. So, the reason the streets are as wide as they are, as I was just told, was that in Carlisle, England you couldn’t do a U-Turn with your horse and buggy because the streets were too narrow. So when they laid out the streets in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, [the streets] had to at least be the turning U-Turn size for a horse and buggy to turn around. And that’s why [the roads] are as wide as they are today.
MS. SIMON: That’s so funny.
Crosswalk on High Street, Carlisle, PA. December 5th, 2007. Photograph by Ellen Simon.
MRS. BARONE: Isn’t that funny? But, it really doesn’t work because with the way traffic moves with these two lanes, is so unsafe and it is so wrong, okay, because you are on one lane coming into town. In all directions, it’s just one lane. Then you hit town and it becomes two lanes. Normally, it’s the other way around. When you’re on a road, or a state road, or whatever, you’re two lanes. When you get to a town, you go to one lane that tells you, ‘Hey slow down. There’s people here.’ No, no we do the exact opposite and we go to two lanes. There’s a group of us who are very concerned about this. The Downtown Association, Dickinson College, the Redevelopment Authority for the County, the LeTort Regional Authority and the Clean Air Board got together and said, ‘Okay, look. No one else is stepping up. So we have to step up and say this is not good, this is enough. We need to do something about traffic. We need to do it now before anyone else gets killed, hit or whatever.’ So, we requested the Borough Council commission a study which would be a comprehensive traffic study to look at the routes throughout town. Mainly, the traffic in the central business district, the speeds at which they go, the routes that trucks take, the feeder routes that are coming in through the town, so the arteries that come in, the neighborhood surrounding it—you know we don’t want to adversely impact a neighborhood, you know to say like, we’ve cut traffic in half on High Street, but now they’re all on Louther Street. You know, that’s not any good either. So we need to look at this comprehensive picture and make changes that can help reduce noise pollution and air pollution and come up with alternate modes of transportation like bicycles, pedestrian-friendly access routes—all of those things. From that, we hope, will come a plan that we can really implement change in our town.
Personally, I think it should go down to two lanes with one lane in each direction and we should put in dedicated bike lanes as well. You’re not allowed to ride your bike on the sidewalk—that’s against the law. But it’s not safe to ride your bike on the street. So it’s like, okay, do you want to break the law or become a hood ornament? [Laughs] I think I’d break the law, you know? I mean, if that’s your option, that’s no good. If you can reduce car trips and have bicycle trips and have it be safe for people to bicycle, you can reduce noise and air pollution. You can do dramatic things by just doing two lanes in each direction down to one lane in each direction and a bike lane. Just that alone would make a huge impact on the community.
MS. SIMON: It really would. Now what about the truck traffic that’s coming through. What would be your preference? To have that truck traffic be relocated some where else, or to have it come through at a slower speed?
MRS. BARONE: Well, all traffic needs to come through at a slower speed. As it is, we just need to slow down because it’s just not safe the way people are driving. However, with trucks, what we have to do is look at some of these distribution centers—and many of them have said that they’re willing to work with us on this—and say, ‘okay, is this really the best route for you to go through town?’ We have to change some of the GPS information because [going through Carlisle] is not the best route for you, if you’re a truck. Some people think they get off to cut through to 81 to the turnpike, they cut across, or they cut this way. Or, if they get off and they get lost because the signage doesn’t make sense. You know, if you’re at…Okay, if you come up 81 going north and you get off at High Street which is actually not High Street, its York Road. You know, cause you get off right there and you think ‘Oh crap, this isn’t where I wanted to get off.’ You can’t get back on, okay, unless you went over to Trindle Road, you could get back on there, but people don’t know that. So the signs—I followed this once because I was just curious to see where it was telling people to go—to get back on 81 North, if you got off at exit 48 okay, and you’re like, ‘Ah, I didn’t want to get off here.’ It tells you to go the whole way into town to the Square, the whole way up North Hanover Street, and the whole way out to Middlesex to pick it up again.
MS. SIMON: That’s ridiculous.
MRS. BARONE: Instead of turning around at the Hess Station, which is a tough turn for trucks, but turning around and getting back on again and never having to come through the downtown. Now, South Middleton township is that area right out there, and there was a big controversy because they wanted to put a road through there that trucks could access. If they got off at the wrong place, they could just cut across because that Hess turn is just nasty for trucks. They always come over the median strips—the Hess station is just bad. It was voted down because it was a residential neighborhood, and they didn’t want a bunch of trucks coming through. So other than building a whole new road somewhere, it’s a mess. The signage has to improve. Again, we have to work with the trucking companies to say, ‘If this isn’t a local delivery, don’t cut through town.’ There are other things that can be done. Some towns, and I’m not sure if Carlisle has it, have ordinances on the books about weight limits. So [the ordinance] is like 10 tons or whatever—I’m not sure what it is. But it has a weight limit on who can come through town, and they actually put out—and we believe Carlisle has a weight limit ordinance—but you can put out a scale and you can move it around. You can put it out on the road, and trucks have to come over it. If you did that for like two days, the amount of money you’d make in fines would be huge, and it would pay for the scale and the police officer who was working it. But the word would get out very quickly through the trucking community that ‘Hey, you do not want to come through town if you don’t have to because you’ll get hit with a fine.’
MS. SIMON: Would there have to be a policeman there at all times working that scale?
MRS. BARONE: Yes. Now the scale can move, so you might have it only four hours today at this location, four hours tomorrow, it’s over there because they can move it. You know what I mean?
MS. SIMON: Okay. Have you talked to the police office about doing that?
MRS. BARONE: It’s not about the police. It’s about the ordinance and whether the borough’s interested in…Exactly how the ordinance is written, which is what we’re looking into right now, and whether they want to dedicate resources to enforce it. Now, again, it’s expensive and you would have to pay… you know, the cops are pretty well stretched here in town, so you would have to pay for a cop to do that, but as I said, the money you’d make up in the fines would pay for the cops’ time and the scale.
MS. SIMON: Right. That would improve the area overall. You mentioned that you were going to talk to the distribution centers around town. Would you say that it is mostly the local trucking industry that really impacts Carlisle, or do you feel that other trucks do come through here?
MRS. BARONE: It’s absolutely other trucks. You know, again, because we are state routes, that makes it tough. You can never say no trucks allowed. We wouldn’t want to impact local deliveries. Businesses downtown need deliveries. Restaurants need food service and things like that. So, it’s not no trucks in Carlisle, absolutely not, because we also understand that the trucking industry in Carlisle is big business for our area. It’s an economic boon for our area. It employs a lot people. So we’re not anti-truck in anyway. We just don’t know if it is appropriate for all those trucks to be coming through here. For example, the one that gets me is logging trucks. Logging trucks that are full of trees in both directions. Like how are they full in both directions? Do you understand what I’m saying? Like a logging truck will come down Hanover Street and turn and go out High Street full. But then I see it coming the other direction full. I’m thinking how are they full in both directions? I don’t understand that, you know? [Laughs.] There’s no logging going on here, so where is that coming from? The other thing you can do is stop the trucks and have an Origin/Destination Study and that means you stop them and you say, ‘Where are you coming from? Where are you going, and why did you come through town?’ Just to try and get a handle on why are they coming into town when they don’t have any local business to do.
MS. SIMON: As far as local business goes, do you think that some of these big trucks do make deliveries to some of the small stores in downtown? I was talking with Jeff Wood and he said, as far as he knows, businesses only really need smaller vans and smaller vehicles in the trucking industry.
MRS. BARONE: I’ve seen Sysco make stops. Sysco does some reastaurant supply things. I’ve seen big trucks make stops at restaurants and bars, you know, so it just depends, it just depends on the business. There are big beer trucks that make stops. I don’t see logging trucks making stops, or local deliveries, or anything like that, but for the most part, I think it’s more a box truck size that makes local deliveries, but it could be bigger. It depends on the business.
MS. SIMON: Have you talked with a lot of the business owners in town about how they feel about all this traffic?
MRS. BARONE: We don’t have to talk with them about it. They talk to us about it. We hear it all the time. We hear it at every meeting we go to. It comes up as a major issue. In this line of work, it doesn’t matter what the meeting is about, it doesn’t matter how big the meeting is, and it doesn’t matter if you’re having lunch with people. You hear about it: ‘Oh my god, these trucks are killing us.’ Well, it’s not just the trucks. It’s the traffic. So, yes, you notice the trucks a lot more and yes, I do think we have probably more than our fair share of trucks in proportion to cars that come through. But it’s the traffic overall that we’ve really got to get a handle on. We can’t just target the trucks because it’s a bigger problem than just trucks. It’s traffic.
MS. SIMON: Could you describe some of the complaints that people voice?
MRS. BARONE: Most of them are safety concerns. If you’re at a crosswalk at one of these main intersections, and it’s just a painted crosswalk. For example, at the Square, there’s the light, and then there’s the mid-block crosswalks that are just painted—[there is one] right in front of M&T Bank. It’s not a light, it’s just [a crosswalk]. If you start walking on that, and the first car is a tractor-trailer that stops for you. The car coming on its other side in that lane has no idea why that truck’s stopped. Most of the time, if you’re not careful you’ll get clipped by that second car, which is why the two lanes are so dangerous because the driver can’t see you. [The complaint we hear the most is] that people do not feel safe crossing in the crosswalks. We’ve all almost gotten clipped. You really have to be careful. The speed at which people drive is insane. When you have lights that are just blocks apart, you don’t have to like [vooosh] to the next red light. It’s insane. The other thing is the intersections are a bit unsafe for the cars too. Without dedicated turning lanes and turning lights, it is so hard to make a left turn off North Hanover Street onto Louther. It’s really bad, you know, because you just sit there and you’re blocking traffic because cars are behind you that still want to go straight, and you just sort of have to go. We have seen so many accidents from people trying to make that left turn in front of North Hanover Grille. [At their corner, North Hanover Grille has] had three accidents in the last two years, two accidents in the last month and one of them, a car went through their front door.
MS. SIMON: I heard about that. I could not believe that.
MRS. BARONE: Yeah, that’s a bad intersection because people are waiting for so long because there’s no left turn lane and there’s no left turn light, so people just go when it is already on red. You see a lot of cars do that, go when it’s on red because they were in line. Again, that’s another thing we’d like. We think it’s a good plan to have dedicated left turn lanes with dedicated left turn lights. But, we’re not traffic experts, which is what this traffic study, we hope, will help tell us some of these things. Easy things that we can do to make the downtown a little bit safer, you know. We had a guy last week coming in through the Health and Wellness Foundation. His name is Mark Fenton and he is an expert on walking, walkability and creating a walkable downtown. He spent three days here, and it was just fascinating to see his perspective on things as to how you design your town to be safe for pedestrians and to show that we’re pedestrian friendly. More people will walk downtown if they feel safe, and safety comes from lighting and security and things like that. But [feeling safe] also [comes] from calming traffic and making it easy for pedestrians to get around.
MS. SIMON: Have you been able to implement anything he suggested to you?
MRS. BARONE: Well that was just last week, so these are big changes that seem big. Repainting the lines on the street does not cost a lot of money. But to take the lanes down to two lanes is a big deal because you have to go through Borough Council and you have to go through PennDot because you have to get their approval to do it. It’s a big deal and nothing will be done, no changes will be made without a comprehensive traffic study. That’s it. No one will even look at it without a full study. Because what you and I think is a good idea could have other ramifications that we haven’t thought of because we’re not traffic engineers.
This traffic study costs $50,000.00. It takes six months to do the study. Dickinson is footing the bill for it because [the college] said, ‘You know what, it’s important for our community.’ Bill Durden said ‘I’m not just being nice by giving the money for this study. It impacts our bottom line if Admissions people are saying, ‘we gave tours downtown, and you couldn’t hear over the traffic, and those four kids said ‘There’s no way I want to come here.’’ If I loose four kids on every tour, or even if I loose three out of four kids on a tour, that’s costing me money.’ It’s worth $50,000.00 to get this corrected and have it be a fabulous downtown for everybody.
If you even thought that was an easy step, we went to Council in September. The five groups said ‘we need a traffic study. We’ve got the money to do it, you just need to approve it. Let’s move on this.’ They approved it but we still don’t have a traffic study started, and here we are in November. [Council is] without a Borough Manager right now, and the Borough Manager runs the Borough government. Their acting Borough Manager is actually the Borough Engineer. He’s swamped. He would be the one who would sort of help lead the Borough end on this. He couldn’t do it. [Council] went out and hired a consultant company to represent them on the traffic study and they sent out a survey to all the groups that said ‘You know, what are your priorities, and let’s make sure everybody’s goals are met, and should we include the township.’ We’re so frustrated because it’s moving so slowly. Here we are in November, and we still don’t have a consultant company. We need to hire an engineer firm to do the study. It has to happen over winter months because PennDot requires it. If you do any kind of a traffic study in Pennsylvania, part of it needs to go over winter months because to see what impacts snow has on the change that you’re talking about. We’re getting down to the wire now. It’s gonna start snowing soon. We need a traffic study. It’s very frustrating.
MS. SIMON: It sounds frustrating. Would you say that the Borough and PennDot are very easy to work with on this? Do they agree with you?
MRS. BARONE: Well, [Laughs], not necessarily. Anytime you work with government, it’s a slow process just because it’s a bureaucracy. That’s the way it’s set up. It is set up because there are so many checks and balances to be fair and equitable. It slows the process down. Whether that is good or bad, it just slows it down. I think Council, for the most part, supports this. People get caught up in their own opinions of what they think. Like, ‘Oh, if you took it down to two lanes, it’ll be backed up forever. I don’t like that idea.’ People get really caught up in their opinions of what they think it should be, and that’s right, or you’re wrong. So we’re saying, ‘put all that aside and let’s actually have an expert come in and tell us what they think.’ There’s some stumbling blocks with that. Council moves conservatively, they move cautiously. They should—they shouldn’t just be like, ‘wam, bam, we’ll do whatever,’ and just move quickly. They have to really deliberate and move carefully. Because their Borough Engineer is otherwise engaged as the acting Borough Manager, that’s slowing us down a lot because they had to bring in this consulting firm. PennDot moves at a snail’s pace because they are a huge organization working on roads all over the state, you know what I mean? [Laughs] Just by the size of PennDot, they move slowly. A lot of people will tell you ‘Well, it’s a state road so PennDot won’t let you do any changes.’ That’s what everybody’s been saying for ten years, and that’s not true. That’s just not true because we found a case in Pottstown where they had the four lanes, parallel parking and they said ‘you know, we don’t want this anymore. We want one lane in each direction, a bike lane, and we want back-in angle parking.’ Because they said people can’t parallel park, SUVs—you know if you don’t have two spaces empty, an SUV has no shot of parallel parking. If you’re driving in traffic, when you parallel park you’ve got to do this weird little S-thing, so the car behind you has to stop. If you back-in angle park, it just goes like that, ‘boom,’ and you’re in. When your doors open, they open guiding you to the sidewalk. Your trunk is to the sidewalk so if you have shopping and stuff, you know? When you go to pull out, you can actually see who is coming. Communities had done angle parking, so you just go in like that, but then you’re backing out into traffic and your trunk is out in the street—that’s not good. So they did this back-in angle parking and PennDot approved it because it met PennDot’s goals of creating a safe environment for all modes of transportation—biking, pedestrian, and motor vehicles. That set the precedence that PennDot is willing to work with you if you can show just cause. Finally, to all those naysayers who say ‘It’s a state road, PennDot won’t let you do it,’ we’re like, ‘ahahaha but you see in the 2005 Pottstown study they let you do it!’ That’s a great thing, and again, PennDot’s new traffic handbook really stresses that it’s not about motor vehicles in a downtown. It’s about all modes of transportation and all modes of transportation have as much right to be safe and effective as vehicles do. It’s not just about the vehicle, you know, which is a great breakthrough.
MS. SIMON: You mentioned before that the trucking industry is really important economically for Carlisle. Do you see any impact that the changes you are interested in making may have on the truck traffic?
MRS. BARONE: I don’t know. What we’re seeing now with the trucking industry is that they want to put in these drop-off places, which are really kind of different, and a different way of thinking. I’m not even sure I know enough about it to have an opinion on it yet. But essentially a truck and a trailer would come in and have a drop-off center, like just off the highway. They would unhook their trailer and go. Then the local, wherever it was going, would come out and pick it up. I’m really not sure what that does for us. Because it’s still trucks, you know? So there’s a lot [of people] that are trying to get these drop-offs approved in the townships. I’m not sure about that. The other thing we’re seeing is just the need for warehousing and, you know, it seemed like in South Middleton townships, in all the townships but I noticed it more in South Middleton because I had lived in South Middleton. We were just too eager to give up farm land for warehousing. It was such a shame to see this great land go to a warehouse. No one wants to live near a warehouse, but it’s a good tax base for the township. It’s a questionable land use, but it’s a good tax base. There are all kinds of issues with that—when you give up your farm land and then we have to get vegetables from Nicaragua and we can’t get corn down the road. There are issues with that not just in healthy eating, but then also in more traffic and pollution because we’ve had to package it and ship it. It just adds to the whole mess when we do that. It’s a real conundrum because the trucking industry is a big industry in this area, but yet we’re really hit with traffic, warehouses and other issues that come with that. We were at the Chamber annual luncheon, and they [had a man who] was with the Pennsylvania State Trucking Association [at the luncheon]. He said, and this just blew my mind, that like 80% of the population is within a two days drive of Carlisle. For trucks, that’s huge because they have to get [to their desintation] fast. You can be to Quebec, you can be to Texas, you can be to a lot of places in two days drive from Carlisle. If 80% of the country’s population is within two days of Carlisle, that really shows you how important this hub is to the nation. I mean, forget about us, to the nation, it’s huge. So that has huge implications. Again there is just no easy answer for how you solve that. The interstate system is great. There’s been talk about making a connector between 81 and the turnpike, so that they don’t even have to get off, and they can get right on the turnpike off of 81 but then that takes into account farmland again. Do you just eminent domain it and just take someone’s land: ‘Well, we needed this on-ramp, so…’ Where do you put it, how do you get it? [A connector] seems like a good answer, maybe it is, maybe it’s not. I don’t know.
MS. SIMON: It’s a really complex problem.
MRS. BARONE: It’s a huge problem, and there’s just no magic bullet. There is no one thing that’ll make a difference.
MS. SIMON: I know there’s been talk about strip malls impacting downtown areas. Well, what about big box stores like Wal-Mart?
MRS. BARONE: Well, I’ll tell you. Wal-Mart put a lot of downtowns out of business,[it] really did. MS. SIMON: You think so, because I’ve talked to some businesses who love it. MRS. BARONE: Not here. But in towns across the country, Wal-Mart put the town under because the sheer volume that they can offer in sales, in merchandise. They have like, a little bit of everything and that’s hard to compete with because they have buying power. They can get it cheaper than an independent store can get it. Wal-Mart put a lot of towns under. It didn’t do it here. And the reason was, we already had a base of a good downtown. So we already had thriving stores still in the downtown. And second, where Wal-Mart is, that used to be a mall. It was called the MJ Mall, and Ames was in there and somebody else was in there. Ames went out of business, and it was empty. I mean, this place was empty, and the Borough is sitting there like, it’s on the tax rolls, but yet we’re not making any money off of it because its empty. What do we do with this big empty building? It’s huge. Wal-Mart came in and moved in there, and from that spread everything that is out there now is there because Wal-Mart moved in. So that was good for our town because it took an empty space that was huge that no one knew what to do with and made it a viable shopping district. That was good for us. There’s an evolution to everything. You know, when they say what’s old is new again? ….Things are cyclical. They always are. You know, they always are. So what happened was from the downtown it went to the strips, from the strips it went to enclosed malls and that was like, the whole thing was an enclosed mall. And now, it’s going back to the strips, but the strips are different now. They’re Kohl’s, and Target, and Michael’s. There’s those kinds of strips. In other places, they call them lifestyle centers which cracks me up….. My sister lives outside of Washington, D.C., and down there it just cracks me up because they have these little shopping villages and they look like little towns, you know they have little brick paved sidewalks and little town clocks and they look like little towns. And that’s what they’re trying to recreate is a downtown, but it’s still a strip. So it kinda goes cyclical. So they’re trying to mimic what a downtown is because that’s actually becoming very cool and in vogue to be downtown now again. Strips and malls hurt a lot of communities, and of course it hurts this community. But this community still always had a base that was very good. In fact… You know when you live in a place long enough, you don’t see it anymore, you don’t see the charms of it anymore? When we have… and we’ve had many, many retail experts come in over the last two and a half years to visit our town and do projects and help us with everything we can do to bring it back to full strength. Everyone of them have said ‘You have the coolest downtown because your building stock is still intact.’ You know we still have 1700 buildings next to 1800 buildings next to 1900 year old buildings, so we have three centuries, now four centuries, of architecture that has not been in lost, that has been preserved for the most part. We’re really lucky for that. We do have almost a ten percent vacancy rate. 20% is the national average. We have a huge shopping district. You don’t [realize it] all the time. If you have two and a half blocks on North Hanover, two blocks on West High Street, two blocks on South Hanover Street and a block on West Promfret, that’s huge. Most towns have like maybe four blocks and it’s all compact and they’re like one straight stretch. So if you took all the stores that we have and put them on that [floor], you’d think this is the greatest place in the world, but they’re all spread out. So we have a lot to work with. So we’re actually in really good shape compared to a lot of downtowns.
MS. SIMON: I was talking to Jeff and he mentioned that there were wagon jams in the roads in the 1700s. Do you see any cyclical nature to the traffic problem?
MRS. BARONE: I’m sure that there is. I’m sure that when cars started—initially there probably weren’t that many—but when it became very common place for there to be cars, people were like, ‘Oh my god, there are cars everywhere’ because there was still a train going through the middle of town and [there were] cars and people. I’m sure it was crazy. In fact, they had angled parking back then, too. But, yes, I think it does go in cyclical natures. As a society though, we are very much in love with our cars. We love our cars as Americans. In European countries, you see a lot more mass transit, public transit, people walking, biking, all that stuff. You don’t see that here. We love our cars and our independence with cars. We don’t car pool. You know, we just don’t. We don’t walk, we don’t ride our bikes. So, you see that. I think that we’re going to see a trend in that soon. I think it’s going to change. But, we have to build it so that it will change, to encourage [the change].
MS. SIMON: Well, thank you, this has been so helpful. Is there anything else you’d like to share with me?
MRS. BARONE: What year are you?
MS. SIMON: I’m a Junior.
MRS. BARONE: Then you may still be here to see the changes that can happen next year from the Traffic Study.
MS. SIMON: That would be really exciting.
MRS. BARONE: Again, this traffic study takes six months, and it hasn’t even started yet. Then, we’ll probably debate it for another six months and then we’ll take three months to come up with a plan. Hopefully you’ll be here to see some changes.