Out on 5th in the Oregon District is over. But it could return

The Out on 5th pilot program has come to an end, but many businesses and patrons say it was extremely successful and hope it will return early next year.

The program, which launched the first weekend in September and wrapped up Sunday, closed East Fifth Street in the Oregon District to automobile traffic on the weekends to create a pedestrian mall.

Businesses said the program was a godsend during tough economic times, and residents said it was a much-needed source of entertainment and social interactions and was good for their mental health.

Oregon District businesses are exploring bringing back Out on 5th in the spring, said Sandy Gudorf, president of the Downtown Dayton Partnership.

“It was an economic boon for them,” said Gudorf. “The pilot worked really well.”

Out on 5th’s final day was Sunday, and some business owners and visitors said the program far exceeded their expectations.

During the pandemic, businesses saw decreased foot traffic and sales and had to limit their seating capacity to comply with social distancing rules. Out on 5th allowed businesses to expand their seating into the street and set up booths outside for sidewalk sales.

Out on 5th also helped accommodate visitors who were not comfortable dining or drinking indoors.

Tailor Curtis, the social media manager for Heart Mercantile, a gift shop in the Oregon District, said the program provided a “great increase in sales for (Heart Mercantile) and probably everyone on this street.”

Some businesses reported that Out on 5th boosted their seating capacity and sales much closer to pre-pandemic levels.

This month, the Oregon District Business Association surveyed its businesses and received a large number of responses, said Emily Mendenhall, vice president of the association.

About 75% of businesses said that Out on 5th increased their revenue, and 15% indicated there was no impact on revenue, she said.

More than 80% of businesses said that they had a favorable opinion of the program, while 10% said they were unsure at the time the survey, she said.

“And while there are some areas to improve and to tweak to make sure all of our businesses benefit from the pedestrian area, the overwhelming majority of businesses indicated that they would like to see Out on 5th brought back by next summer, if not sooner,” she said.

The neighborhood association also surveyed residents and overwhelmingly they supported the program too, she said.

Dayton native Benjamin “Boy Blue” Baugham is a chalk artist who has been to every Out on 5th event creating artwork.

Before Out on 5th launched, some people were concerned that closing the street could lead to large crowds partying in the street.

But Baughman said the only bad behavior he observed was when a large crowd gathered around a couple of performance artists who started “a gladiator arena” in the middle of the street.

“I think (the Oregon District) is the only attraction Dayton really has and we can’t lose it,” Baughman said. “And while sometimes it may draw a crowd, I think the mental health of our community is more important.”

Shane Juhl, co-owner of Toxic Brew company, said most patrons to the Oregon District are responsible about following safety guidelines, including wearing masks, social distancing and waiting in lines to enter businesses.

He said Out on 5th is “the only thing keeping us going.”

Out on 5th and outdoor drinking in the Oregon District were at risk of being shut down after a large, mostly maskless crowd gathered outside of bars on a Saturday night earlier this month.

But public health officials said crowds were smaller the following weekend and people generally followed safety rules.

Health officials did not recommend terminating the program early, and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley decided not to seek punitive action against the program and outdoor drinking (called the Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area, or DORA).

Curtis said patrons were very responsible “in the beginning” of the program and continued to be responsible during the day. She said, however, that sometimes at night college students came out and weren’t as safe and responsible as they should be.

“When the sun goes down it gets a little party," she said.

But the program mostly received rave reviews from visitors and businesses. There were few problems, officials said.

Through Out on 5th, and the community came out and supported Oregon District businesses in a big way when they were having a hard time, said Gudorf, with the Downtown Dayton Partnership.

“We’re going to be working with all the businesses in the neighborhood to look at what the next steps will be for the spring,” she said.

She said, “Please continue doing everything you can to help our small businesses. They need it.”

Many people hope Out on 5th returns next year, and some people wish East Fifth Street would close to automobile traffic every weekend.

Some have even suggested closing the street permanently.

Guy Fragmin, the owner of 416 Diner, said he supports closing Fifth Street on the weekends, but thinks a permanent closure would be a mistake.

“If they wanted to do it all the time, I would not support it,” he said. And that’s based on my clientele. I’m a diner. I get a lot of older folks who don’t want to walk."