Wheaton restaurants want to close downtown street for outdoor dining
A group of Wheaton businesses will ask the city council Tuesday to block off a downtown street for outdoor dining to help restart a summer restaurant scene.
The Downtown Wheaton Association will introduce a recommendation to close a stretch of Hale Street to traffic so al fresco dining can spill onto the road and make room for social distancing. A thriving restaurant row had taken root on Hale before the pandemic and sit-down dining closures delivered an economic blow to restaurateurs and their employees.
"I think it would benefit the businesses the most to be able to use it, and it would drive the customers," said Elle Withall, the association's executive director. "People want to be back outside. They want to enjoy their favorite spots, and this is a way that we can do both of those things safely."
As the state looks to relax stay-at-home restrictions, Arlington Heights and Hinsdale also have announced plans to close downtown blocks to accommodate outdoor dining. Algonquin has developed a villagewide plan to temporarily allow restaurants to bring outdoor dining to sidewalks and parking lots.
"We are just as hard hit, and so at this time, we have to do everything that we possibly can to help our businesses stay in business," Withall said.
Restaurants and bars can offer outdoor dining as soon as May 29, when the state is on track to reach the third phase of a five-stage Restore Illinois reopening plan, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said earlier this week.
Pritzker's plan previously restricted restaurants to pickup, delivery and drive-through service until a region enters Phase 4. At that point, restaurants would reopen with capacity limits.
But restaurants are anticipating diminished indoor capacity.
"The thing about restaurants is every square foot is accounted for, and there's a dollar amount attached to that," Withall said. "And that is why it's so important that if we can figure out how to do this outdoor dining to increase that occupancy for them, we need to do that."
The business group wants the city to close Hale from Front to Wesley streets for at least a month until they can see what the Phase 4 state restrictions look like.
"We really need more information with the state because our office is left scrambling and cities are left scrambling when these announcements are made as far as next steps," Withall said.
Matt Marquez, owner of Moveable Feast + Co. at 112 N. Hale, participated in a DWA conference call Thursday with about two dozen other businesses to discuss the logistics if the council approves the request. Tables would be placed 6 feet apart.
"We're going to increase our staff and put our normal menu together and see how it goes," Marquez said.
Roberto Avila, owner of Altiro Latin Fusion at 132 N. Hale, urges the city to adopt the plan to help restaurants that lack outdoor patios to serve customers. Altiro is taking reservations for the start of outdoor dining May 29, but space is limited on the sidewalks outside his corner restaurant. Several patrons already have booked their spots.
"We have really good followers," Avila said.
Officials also plan to provide a walkway for emergency vehicles and expand outdoor dining elsewhere downtown.
"The goal is to get it up and get it going and to have some form of normalcy back into our downtown," Withall said.