Restaurants continue utilizing outdoor seating as city extends street closures

Thursday, October 22, 2020 - 2:31pm

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Julia Schachinger/Daily

 

With cold weather settling into Ann Arbor, restaurants are considering different methods of maintaining safe and warm spaces for patrons. 

Ann Arbor City Council announced Oct. 21 that the city is extending street closures in the downtown area until Nov. 30. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, outdoor seating has been viewed as a way to minimize spread while supporting local businesses.

The extension of street closures will enable restaurants and bars to continue offering outdoor seating in the closed streets. Chad Feldman, general manager of Good Time Charley’s, a popular bar for University of Michigan students, said having the streets closed has been good for business. 

“We were able to effectively use that space to space our tables so they were outside of the six-foot social distancing mandate,” Feldman said. “We’re looking at winterizing our patios as well as the outdoor bar so that we can continue to generate revenue from those areas.”

Businesses in Ann Arbor have struggled since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, as spring and fall staples that normally bring in heightened sales like graduation and football games have been canceled or changed. Many restaurant owners reported fearing closure, while some popular locales, including Wilma’s and Espresso Royale, had to shut their doors due to the financial strain caused by the pandemic.

Many restaurants began reopening with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s approval in June, but owners said they were anxiously awaiting the more than 40,000 students who attend the University to return to campus and support their businesses when the hybrid fall semester began in late August.

In preparing for the colder months, Good Time Charley’s has invested in heaters for their patios, so they can continue to offer outdoor seating options. Like Good Time Charley’s, Black Diesel Coffee has also invested in heat lamps for their outdoor patio.

Black Diesel has “snow globe” structures, where people can sit and enjoy their beverages safely, according to owner Nick Ferris. He said the snow globes are essentially covered spaces which will feel like a snow globe when snow falls on them in winter.

“They’re roughly 10 feet round octagons, and they’re a lot of fun,” Ferris said. “They’re all clear, and when you’re sitting in them and snow’s falling, it’s kind of cool.”

With making outdoor seating available, many restaurants have cut down on their indoor seating capacities. Many business owners told The Michigan Daily they are also making changes to their indoor spaces to ensure proper air filtration and social distancing.

Ferris said that in order to comply with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they have limited their indoor seating capacity to 20%. The outdoor patio has 12 tables that are spaced apart to allow for social distancing, he said.

Eve Aronoff, the owner of Frita Batidos, said they are working on a strong air filtration system inside the restaurant to make sitting inside safer, and are getting stronger outdoor heaters.

“We have patio heaters currently, but we’re going to be getting better, stronger patio heaters,” Aronoff said. “We’re also working with an HVAC company to try to get an air filtration system inside so sitting inside will be safer and more comfortable.”

LSA freshman Rachel Swartz said she prefers outdoor seating. After the stay-at-home order ends, she said she would want to go to restaurants and continue taking advantage of outdoor seating rather than sitting inside a restaurant.

“If I look at a situation and I see that I don’t think there are any precautions being taken inside a restaurant, then I probably won’t stay,” Swartz said. “Besides that, I think that most restaurants have been doing a pretty good job of making some changes.”

Daily News Contributor Hiruni Jayawickreme can be reached at hjaya@umich.edu.


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