Will al fresco dining continue in Bay Area towns?


With colder nights around the corner and indoor dining in full swing since the start of summer despite the pandemic’s lingering grip, Bay Area cities are trying to determine whether it’s time to get some of their tables removed from closed streets so motorists can start driving them again.

While the extensive parks that have sprung up in downtown areas of cities have been a lifeline for many restaurants during intermittent closures, retailers like wine stores, gift shops and service companies say that they prevented customers from finding and easily getting to their stores.

In an effort to accommodate the two, Pleasanton ended its Weekend on the Main after Labor Day program. As a result, a two-thirds-mile stretch of Main Street that had been closed on weekends so patrons could dine in its lanes is back on track.

But restaurants, cafes and other businesses with sidewalk tables and parklets in street parking spaces can maintain their less intrusive configurations there seven days a week at least until the end of the year.

Maurice Dissels, the owner of the Guyanese and South American inspired Oyo restaurant on Main Street, said he wished Weekend on the Main could have been left alone for at least a little longer.

“Obviously I would like to see it extended, maybe until October, given the good weather we reserve,” he said.

Although he spent over $ 9,000 to create a colorful semi-permanent wooden parklet with tables and umbrellas in the parking spots along the sidewalk, the complete street closure has helped him nearly double the number of customers he served by adding more tables in the traffic lanes.

“This allows us to regain some of the losses we have suffered. But that’s going to be deleted, ”Dissels said. He also said residents liked the vibes created by the street closures, including the live performances.

“People had fun and danced in the streets until 11 o’clock. Because people wanted to forget about COVID, they wanted to have fun, they wanted not to feel locked in, ”he said.

But Jaime Zile, who runs I Love Bridal right across from Oyo, said the weekend street closure made it difficult for his customers, some of whom were not from town, to find his shop. .

Even after giving warnings and instructions to customers, she said she often had to spend time helping them bypass closures.

“So instead of helping another bride, I’m on the phone,” she said.

“People don’t just come downtown to go to a restaurant and say, ‘Oh, hey, there’s a bridal shop, let’s go buy something.’ Our company is a 100% destination.

PLEASANTON, CA – SEPTEMBER 09: Jaime Zile, owner of I Love Bridal, is reflected in a mirror at his store on Main Street in Pleasanton, Calif. On Thursday, September 9, 2021. On Monday, the city of Pleasanton completed its Monday The Weekends on Main program, which closed portions of the street to traffic and allowed some businesses to expand their activities outdoors during the coronavirus pandemic. (Jane Tyska / Bay Area News Group)

“About 20% of our businesses find it painful,” said Zac Grant, executive director of the Pleasanton Downtown Association, of the Weekend on Main program.

“If closing Main Street and allowing alfresco dining is an appropriate pandemic countermeasure for a restaurant, opening Main Street and encouraging curbside pickup at a retailer’s front door is the solution for commerce. retail, ”he said.

“These two solutions are mutually exclusive,” Grant said.

Beside Oyo, Alexis Gass runs Clover Creek, a gift and household goods store.

“I agree that it’s once a month, but not every weekend,” Gass said.

“Tents and umbrellas, they stretch all the way to the front of retail stores. Retail stores that pay rent like restaurants, they have no visibility from the street because the restaurants have taken care of everything, ”she said.

Gass said street closures also make it difficult for customers to find parking, and if someone buys a large or heavy item in their store, it’s not easy to get it back to their car.

“It looks like there has to be fairness between all stores and restaurants,” Gass said.

PLEASANTON, CA – SEPTEMBER 09: Chef and owner Maurice Dissels chats with Malika Funaki and Tiffany Holani, of Concord, from right, as they dine in the parklet of Oyo Restaurant on Main Street in Pleasanton, California , Thursday, September 7, February 9, 2021. On Monday, the town of Pleasanton ended its Weekends on Main program on Monday, which closed portions of the street to traffic and allowed some businesses to expand their operations to the outdoors during the coronavirus pandemic. (Jane Tyska / Bay Area News Group)

Pamela Ott, deputy city manager for Pleasanton, said city leaders plan to maintain weekend on the Main and parklet programs in the future, but they may need to change somewhat.

“Weekend on Main did exactly what it was designed to do, support our merchants, and a lot of it was restaurants,” she said.

But it was important to end the program after Labor Day to help balance the retail store scale, with the fall and holiday shopping seasons on the horizon. “This is the time when retailers typically return a significant portion of their annual revenue to their businesses,” she said.

There was also a need to complete the program before the downtown association’s Concerts in the Park series of events, she said.

Other cities face similar challenges in determining whether to continue, modify or end their various outdoor activity programs.

San Jose’s Al Fresco outdoor dining program will remain in effect until December 31, but it’s unclear what will happen after that deadline, though some city leaders and business owners have advocated make parking lots and street closures permanent, including banning cars. of part of San Pedro Street.

Oakland will keep its Flex Street program in place until at least March 2022, which allows some businesses to use sidewalks and parking spaces, and includes some street closures.

And at least until the end of the year, it looks like Walnut Creek will allow restaurants to keep their outdoor patios on Main Street and close some side streets to allow easier access to the main road.

File photo of alfresco dining along Main Street in Pleasanton, Calif. On Saturday, July 11, 2020 (Karl Mondon / Bay Area News Group)

Zile, Gass and Dissels all agree that the City and Downtown Association needs to take a more equitable approach going forward.

“It’s not fair for any of us – restaurants, retailers, merchants – to be somehow pitted against each other. I think management can come up with something that would make everyone, to the extent possible, benefit from it, ”Dissels said.

Deputy city manager Ott said she and city leaders had heard the concerns loud and clear.

The city plans to set up a task force that includes “retailers, restaurants, other downtown business owners, residents, city staff” and the downtown association to help “understand how we can create a weekend on the Main that supports all of these stakeholders.” “

City staff aim to have the updated versions of the programs ready for council review by early next year.

Editors Maggie Angst, Aldo Toledo, and Shomik Mukherjee contributed to this article.

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