Covid-19 can spread quickly in crowded indoor spaces, making it difficult for restaurants to create safe spaces for nervous customers. But some people in the industry are hoping that the city allows them to spread out in a safer way. One idea is to move more seating into the sidewalk or street.
Of course, sidewalk cafes are already ubiquitous in the neighborhood. But this would entail a more ambitious expansion.
Some Upper West Siders have already started floating plans. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer supports the idea, calling it “a work in progress & we have to do it safely, while making sure our small businesses stay open.”
Because just a few streets are now closed to traffic, Brewer wants the Department of Transportation to use its Street Seats initiative to expand dining options.
“The Street Seats program currently allows for ground-floor businesses with street access to apply for permits to convert that space into public seating arrangements from March through December each year,” Eater reported. Normally businesses can’t take money at Street Seats locations but Brewer wants that to change. Also she wants DOT to set up seating areas with “low-cost, temporary materials such as plastic delineators and planters.”
Andrew Rigie, the executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance and a member of local Community Board 7, also supports expanding space for restaurants. “NYC must open streets, extend sidewalks, utilize pedestrian plazas, parks & other open spaces for restaurants to serve customers in a safe and responsible way,” he wrote on Twitter.
And Henry Rinehart, owner of former Upper West Side mainstay Henry’s is pushing for it too. In a letter, he cited Lithuania as one successful example:
Currently, one of the most compelling examples of the growing open streets movement is taking place in the capital of Lithuania, Vilnius. The mayor of this gorgeous world heritage site has opened the narrow streets throughout the city center. His plan has expanded space in the streets for restaurants and cafés to serve al fresco. Additionally, the mayor has given 400 euros to every essential worker to be spent exclusively in the city’s restaurants and cafés.
On Wednesday night at 6:30, Community Board 7 will hold a special meeting to consider ideas. The Zoom link is here. The agenda is below:
“Discussion and possible resolution concerning the potential use of sidewalk and outdoor spaces, public plazas, curbside spaces and other unusual areas by restaurants and other small businesses during a defined period as we recover from the Covid-19 Crisis.”