Just as the downtown parking lots fill up with cars in the throes of its tourist season, so do the planters and sidewalks fill up with cigarette butts. And this summer, Waynesville is trying out a new way of keeping Main Street spick and span.
The town has replaced Main Street custodian Mike McFarland, a longtime Waynesville worker who ran a one-man show cleaning and sweeping, with a crew of town workers who hit the street on an as-needed basis. The crew is also be tasked with maintaining all three of the municipality’s retail hotspots — Frog Level, Hazelwood and Main Street — not just Main Street.
“We’ve just changed the way we’re collecting the trash,” said Town Manager Marcy Onieal. “But our standard for cleanliness has not changed at all.”
Onieal said the changes will allow a group of workers to get on and off of Main Street before most of the stores open. With one worker operating a blower or broom, another picking up litter on the ground and another emptying trashcans, a group can complete a job in a matter of hours that one person previously toiled all day at.
Then the crew can move on to the next job, rotating to other high-traffic areas. This way, Onieal said, the other up-and-coming public shopping districts, Hazelwood and Frog Level, will get more attention as well.
“We needed to deploy our staff in a way that’s more efficient — in a way that can clean all downtown, not just one downtown,” Onieal said.
But there’s no denying that many Main Street merchants will miss the presence of McFarland, who worked the street’s cleaning beat for more than 15 years. Although McFarland is still working with the town’s sanitation department, the quiet, diminutive man with a beard won’t be on Main Street everyday to reassure merchants or greet the town’s Mayor Gavin Brown on his way to work in the morning.
“Mike has been there for so long — he’s just sort of part of your everyday life,” Brown said. “He’s someone you see all the time and you say ‘Hey, good morning, Mike.’”
The change in Main Street maintenance has already been underway for a couple of months, and Onieal said only one business owner, so far, has contacted the town with reservations about the changes. But other than that, the new method has been widely accepted. Brown, too, said if it were turning out to be a inadequate way of cleaning, someone would have pulled him aside by now on his daily strolls down Main Street.
“If the merchants are not happy, they’ll let us know,” Brown said. “You can’t hide when you’re the mayor of a small town.”
Now that flocks of visitors are appearing on Main Street, brought in by the summer weather, some downtown merchants are becoming anxious about not having a dedicated employee on site. One concern is that street won’t get individual attention under the new system it once received.
“Having Michael actually do the street sweeping and cleaning really made a difference,” said Buffy Phillips, executive director of the Downtown Waynesville Association. “He was always bending down to pick up a cigarette butt and a bottle.”
Phillips also said at first glance, the new system isn’t noticeably better, nor is it noticeably worse, thus far. She said one apparent difference is that litter seems to be accumulating more readily in the nooks and crannies of the street — potted plants and landscaped areas that one person would have all day to notice and chip away at might get overlooked by a fast-moving crew of workers.
Phillips said everyone is taking this as a trial run. But in anticipation of less TLC, the association advised businesses to take extra time to tidy up their own storefronts.
“We’ll just all have to pitch in,” Phillips said. “Especially during the high-traffic season, we’ll see how it works.”
Cecily Dover Hall, owner of the Main Street corner shop The Gatekeeper, said she has a well-established habit of pitching in. With her location adjacent to a town kiosk and popular public sitting area, she stays prepared with a broom near the shop’s door and a pair of gloves for picking up cigarette butts. The nearby benches are a favorite spot to smoke and from which to flick cigarettes.
“They sit there on the bench, and they flip ‘em,” Hall said.
Because of her location next to a Main Street rest stop and informal role as Main Street gatekeeper, Hall is also one of the first to notice an uptick in the amount of litter being left behind by pedestrians. This spring, she said she has noticed the butts accumulating more so than years past.
Hall has seen McFarland scrape everything from gum to dog poop off the sidewalk during his tenure. She worried that a transient crew, or merchants periodically pitching in, might not be the same as one employee on the street all day. But whatever way the town uses to clean Main Street, Hall said the result must be the same.
“It needs to look nice all the way down,” she said.