The city of Frederick’s approval for expanded outdoor dining is set to expire at the end of this month, but extending the program that is assisting our restaurants should be a slam dunk for city officials.
The innovative program began in June, allowing restaurants to set up seating on city sidewalks; in city parks, alleys, and lots; or on private property. The city even permitted the businesses to place tables behind jersey barriers in parking spaces on the street, and it closed a section of North Market Street on weekends so restaurants could take over the street.
Those moves have been a lifeline for restaurants struggling to stay in business during the pandemic, when indoor dining was first prohibited and even now strictly curtailed.
Our local restauranteurs are keeping an eye on the weather, but they are very aware that even after more customers are permitted inside their establishments, a large number are not going to come through the doors until the pandemic abates.
In the meantime, outdoor dining has been essential for survival.
“We’re sustaining because of outdoor seating,” Phil Giuliano, assistant general manager of the Cellar Door, told News-Post reporter Ryan Marshall.
The city is considering ideas for handling extra seating in the winter months, but the answer has to be that the rules should stay as flexible as possible to insure the continuing success of the restaurants.
Some restaurants are considering buying large radiant heaters to give diners some warmth as temperatures fall, while others want to keep the outdoor tables available for those who do not want to eat indoors no matter the discomfort.
Giuliano told our reporter that, if the city allows, “we’ll extend that outdoor seating until there’s snow on the ground.”
Amanda Seifarth, a manager at Cafe Nola, said that many customers are still uncomfortable eating indoors, preferring tables on the sidewalk even on chilly mornings.
“If people are willing to sit at them, we’ll have the outdoor tables whenever possible,” she said. Café Nola has long had outdoor dining on its sidewalk, but normally brings the tables inside for winter months.
One of the restaurants that has been able to place tables on North Market Street on the weekends is Isabella’s Taverna and Tapas Bar. It has been “a lifesaver for the business,” general manager Brian Klitch told our reporter.
The city has closed Market Street to cars on weekends from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. between Patrick and Third streets, essentially turning it into a pedestrian mall. It has worked.
Kara Norman, executive director of the Downtown Frederick Partnership, told our reporter that her group is definitely in favor of continuing to allow outdoor dining. She also said the city must decide quickly so that businesses can make plans.
Manufacturers have reported a growing demand for the big heaters that can make sidewalk dining more comfortable through most of the winter months. Norman said local restauranteurs need to know if they will be permitted to continue outside operations so they can order the devices.
The city should move as quickly as possible to continue the summer program to support our local restaurant owners. We have seen a few encouraging signs in recent weeks, particularly in the decision of Doug Vaira to open his new eatery on Carroll Creek, Truth and Beauty Bar & Kitchen. It takes the place of the former Doner Bistro, which closed early in the pandemic.
Now, the city needs to take the steps that will keep this business sector moving forward, to the extent that it can.