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Kennedy: COVID-19 resurrects pair of dining terms

Kennedy: COVID-19 resurrects pair of dining terms

Kennedy: COVID-19 resurrects pair of dining terms
Vischer Ferry General Store outdoor patio seating in June
Photographer: Erica Miller/Staff Photographer

Add “streatery” and “parklet” to the lexicon of our times.

The terms have been around for years, but lately they’ve been employed in aid of restaurants ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic.

From major metros like Seattle and New York City to more modest Ballston Spa, “streateries” – tables spilling out onto sidewalks and streets, including into “parklets” created from one or more curbside parking spaces – are being used to attract customers still hesitant about indoor dining.

When the pandemic sparked stay-at-home orders in March, nearly half of New York’s restaurants closed temporarily, while the rest attempted takeout and delivery, according to data from the New York State Restaurant Association.

Although indoor dining now has resumed – except in New York City – capacity is capped at 50 percent, and nearly a fifth of restaurants remain closed, according to a new survey from the association, in which restaurateurs paint a still-gloomy revenue picture.

Local governments and business groups are trying to lend a hand.

In Ballston Spa, just a month after officials first pondered a dine-outdoors scheme, the village in mid-June debuted a limited closure of commercial Front Street on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings so restaurants could offer table service outside while still observing social-distancing and mask-wearing rules.

No permit was required to participate, and restaurants wanting to provide alcohol were bundled together in an application coordinated by the mayor and sent to the state liquor authority for quick approval.

Village trustee Liz Kormos said the orange traffic cones and sawhorses used to set off the dining area may not be attractive, but feedback on the project “has been very positive.”

“There’s a lot of interest in making this a permanent feature,” she said last week during an online local government workshop hosted by the Capital District Regional Planning Commission.

Representatives from Troy and Albany also participated in the webinar, outlining their communities’ efforts to act quickly to help local restaurants.

Troy’s initiative, started in July and focused primarily in the Monument Square area, not only featured take-out and outdoor street dining, but also music, readings and art.

Katie Hammon, executive director of the Downtown Troy Business Improvement District, said the project likely would extend into the fall and return next summer.

In Albany, planning commissioner Chris Spencer said the city’s “streateries” aimed to expand existing outdoor dining by “trying to find more available space for all of these restaurants.”

While closing the likes of eatery-heavy Lark Street was considered, he said, some restaurants indicated the pandemic left them without the staff or wherewithal to participate.

In the end, Spencer said, the city focused on “how do we … give people more space” to offer outdoor dining, and helped bring it to fruition by waiving permit fees and requirements, giving over metered parking when needed, and providing infrastructure like barriers and handicapped-compliant ramps when additional sidewalk tables diverted pedestrians into the street.

Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected]

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