The city of Frederick has undertaken a grand experiment to try to decide the question: Can you rescue the restaurant industry and a historic downtown by letting people eat at tables set up in the street?

Three months ago, it would have seemed a dubious idea. Three months hence it will be all over. But for this strange, dislocated summer, it might just work.

Setting up tables in the street is one of several outdoor dining options that are being tried by the city to resuscitate the dining-out industry that has been crippled by the coronavirus pandemic.

Since mid-March, restaurants have only been allowed to offer carry-out orders or delivery. Dining in options are being phased in, but with greatly reduced capacity, with half or less of the tables open to the public.

So, in the most dramatic display of the new options, the city is closing two blocks of Market Street — from Church Street north to Market Alley and from Church south to Patrick Street — each Friday, Saturday and Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

With a city permit, restaurants in that section of Market are allowed to set up tables in the street. In other parts of the city, they will have other options. The city has installed water-filled barriers that block off parking spaces outside of restaurants for more outdoor seating.

These sections are being called “parklets,” Richard Griffin, director of Economic Development for the City of Frederick, told News-Post reporter Erika Riley. He said that the barriers are quite heavy once they are filled with water, for the safety of guests.

These changes and others are being called pop-up restaurants by the city. Restaurateurs will need permits, but they will be able to add tables to sidewalks, streets, parks and private property as well, all in the goal of expanding capacity.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but we know all of this will make a hodgepodge of our historic district this summer. Downtown sidewalks are already difficult to manage during busy times, and the parklet barriers are — how should we phrase it? — really ugly.

But it is something we all must adjust to, and put up with, at least for one summer.

The ordinances allowing the pop-ups will expire at the end of October, or the end of the state of emergency issued by Gov. Larry Hogan to cope with the pandemic, whichever comes first.

The food industry has been strangled by the restrictions of social distancing in the pandemic. No restaurant, no matter how well managed, can survive alone on carryout and delivery. Few would be able to limp along with half their tables empty.

So, the makeshift pop-up dining options are necessary to try to help our local eateries to keep going through tough times.

And keeping our restaurant sector viable is an absolute necessity to keep the downtown district thriving. A downtown is all about shopping and eating, quaint boutiques and trendy bars, new options and old favorites. They are all interrelated economically, and interdependent.

So, for the summer of 2020, the summer of the pandemic, we are willing to give these pop-up dining spots a try, and we will hope for good weather so they can succeed.

(9) comments

Trellis

The "parklets" on East Patrick Street are an awful intrusion to the people living above and around them.

Trellis

One of them, with no food component, is a straight-up street bar. Crowded with loud talkers, drinking hard-liquor cocktails, bunched together, maskless, yelling from table to table (even though the tables are close together), blocking sidewalks and entrances to residences. Tonight, window open to enjoy the fresh air, had the distinct displeasure of my residence echoing with the non-stop banal yakkity-yakking of a foghorn, booming blowhard talking about himself. With every drink, he got louder. He clearly thought he was entertaining. For residents, he was anything but. The bar (cleverly labled a "cocktail lab"), has already alienated neighbors. Now this. NO. STREET. BARS.

Citicat

Wonder what right the mayor and county executive are using to close off a state road...seems like that is over reaching there responsibly...expected we are talking fredneck...

Greg F

Would you rather that they all go out of business? Is there no way around you wouldn't find easier than getting stuck in all the lights anyway? Over-reaching...that's your comment.

Greg F

My wife and I took a walk downtown to see what it was all about on Sunday. That idea should be made permanent for sure, just so long as some additional parking is made available off the street that currently is paid or non-existent. It did take awhile to find a spot, but the walk was pleasant since it was wide open and the smells were inviting too of all the food. It seems most people were respecting distance, except a very few and one couple was walking a gigantic dog without any hint of a leash. There will always be the morons who can't follow anything. I'd love to see this made into a walking street all summer long or longer if needed.

Business Owner

Great idea -- maybe this is something we keep doing!

francesca_easa

I think it great idea and rare treat.

FrederickFan

Looks like outdoor dining went over well.

EABiker

It went well because it was a beautiful spring weekend; I doubt once the typical Maryland summer kicks in with heat, humidity, and pop up storms, things will fare as well.

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