Here is more evidence — in case you needed any — that no good deed goes unpunished.
The city of Frederick has been trying to help restaurants that are struggling to stay alive during the coronavirus pandemic, when state rules limit indoor dining rooms to 50 percent of normal capacity to try to limit the spread of COVID-19.
The city decided to bend and, in some cases, ignore the zoning rules. It closed a section of North Market Street and permits restaurants lining the street to set up tables on the roadway.
It also created little “parklets” in parking spaces so other eateries could have a few tables outside. And it relaxed the rules on outdoor dining all around the city.
The Market Street closure seems to be helping. On a typical Saturday afternoon downtown, hundreds of people can be found dining al fresco. But nearby restaurants that did not benefit from the closure are crying foul.
Sherif Salem, co-owner of Hootch and Banter, told News-Post reporter Erika Riley that he feels as if the closure of Market Street between Patrick and 2nd streets creates an “uneven playing field” for restaurants not located on that strip.
He is absolutely correct. And there is very little that can be done about it.
Salem’s location, at 49 S. Market, just north of Carroll Creek Park, has been a good one in past summers. Events such as the Alive at Five concerts would draw hundreds to the area, and restaurants would be flooded with customers.
In our pandemic summer, though, the Carroll Creek festivals have been canceled.
“Now with everything canceled, and having them close Market Street from Patrick to 2nd, the city has created an environment where it’s a draw to go to North Market and there are zero draws to come to South Market,” Salem said.
Salem and the other restauranteurs on South Market would like to have their section of the street closed too, but that just can’t happen. The United Steam Fire Engine Co. is at 79 S. Market. If firefighters are called to anything on the west side of the city, the engine goes north on Market — right past Hootch and Banter — and left on Patrick Street.
Just look at a map and you’ll see there is no simple way to get equipment to a fire on the west side without driving up Market Street. The city cannot take a chance on delaying fire response by precious minutes so that people can eat in the street.
We are sympathetic to Salem and the other restaurant owners who are harmed by the Market Street closing. But the city can’t help everyone. It may not be fair, but neither is life. Especially now.
Richard Griffin, director of Economic Development for the city, said he has not heard from any restaurants who want to do outdoor dining and have not been able to.
Hootch and Banter could not do a parklet because Salem does not have parking spots in front of his restaurant. He was given the option of doing a pop-up restaurant on Carroll Creek, but decided against it. The idea of sending servers loaded with trays of food down Market’s sidewalks and out to the creek does seem impractical.
Shuckin’ Shack, another South Market place, wanted to use a neighboring parking lot owned by ReMax Realtors and got the firm’s permission to use it. However, co-owner Wade Newman told our reporter the city turned down the plan because he did not own the property. That sounds like a situation where the city could be flexible.
While the city is trying to help businesses survive this pandemic, we need to accept the fact that until a vaccine is developed, becomes widely available and is administered to most people, we are not returning to anything approximating normal.
If the local and state pandemic restrictions continue into the fall, colder weather will eventually limit the usefulness of any outside dining. City leaders and local business people will have to come up with some other alternatives. If the pandemic worsens, then all bets are off.
Let’s face it: This is the best we can do.