Our View: If you clear it, they will come

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During the weekend after Thanksgiving, one of the busiest shopping periods of the year, the retail zone along Lincoln Avenue was made treacherous by snow and ice.

None of the sidewalks were shoveled except for random spots in front of individual shops, and snowplows had formed huge parapets of snow and ice on all street corners.

A journalist here later recalled watching a young woman helping a much older woman, perhaps her mother or grandmother, carefully negotiating a slick stretch of sidewalk. The two were clutched together so tightly they seemed to be vibrating. From the expressions on their faces, it was clear they weren't just annoyed; they were terrified. You can bet they didn't spend the day shopping. A lot of those sidewalks were still looking pretty slick two weeks later.

Snow is a fact of life here, and it takes a lot of work to keep sidewalks clear and street corner snow piles knocked down enough to get over them without crampons. However, there are some other important facts of life involved.

One is this: If the decision to shop with local merchants entails the risk of breaking your hip, no one can be blamed for going elsewhere.

Tracy Barnett of the merchants' group Main Street Steamboat Springs has for years evangelized about the importance of keeping downtown sidewalks safe and easy to navigate. She notes another fact of life: The potential legal liability for merchants that don't keep their sidewalks shoveled is so vast that it's hard to understand how any of them could fail to do so. Settling one slip-and-fall lawsuit would cost a lot more than many seasons of aggressive snow removal.

She said most longtime merchants do a good job, and she thinks some of the newcomers might be confused about whose job it is to shovel the snow.

The answer is simple: It's the merchants' legal responsibility to keep sidewalks clear in front of their shops. It is the responsibility of merchants on the corners to keep the corner handicapped-access ramps clear.

Barnett said there was initial discussion about forming a special district to raise money for such safety-related things as snow removal. She warned, however, that a lot of snow would fall before anything ever came of those plans. She also said the city had agreed to do what it could to help keep the corners clear but that help would be seldom and sporadic.

We think people should shop with the local merchants along Lincoln Avenue; we said so as recently as Wednesday. But if those merchants want people to frequent their shops, they have to do a much better job of clearing the sidewalks and corners than most did during Thanksgiving weekend.

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