St. Charles extends outdoor dining program through October
A temporary outdoor dining program in St. Charles has been crucial in helping bars and restaurants stay afloat amid the coronavirus, downtown business owners said.
For the past month, establishments have expanded alfresco seating onto sidewalks, public gathering spaces, parking lots and closed streets as a way to maximize their occupancies while maintaining social distancing guidelines.
The city council this week extended those policies through October, hoping to offer support for businesses and provide options for customers.
"If we can keep executing this, we're a star of the Western suburbs," Mayor Ray Rogina said.
As the state moved into Phase 3 of the Restore Illinois plan in late May, restaurants throughout St. Charles were forced to get creative with outdoor dining areas while indoor dining was prohibited. Some set up tents and tables in parking lots. Others put patio furniture on sidewalks and public property.
In downtown, the city closed First Street from Main Street to a parking garage entrance, creating space for picnic tables to be used by carryout customers. Surrounding eateries got permission to expand alfresco dining services onto the First Street sidewalks and public plazas.
For Alter Brewing, which opened its new location during the stay-at-home order, outdoor seating has made all the difference, partner Ken Henricks said. During Phase 3, the brewery and kitchen was able to reach 45% of its total occupancy, he said, compared to the 20% it would have achieved without the special provisions.
"What you've done to First Street is not only visionary, but I think it's an incredible amenity to St. Charles," Henricks told aldermen Monday. "Without it, I don't even want to think about where these restaurants would be today."
Now in Phase 4, establishments can resume indoor dining with capacity limits. But Henricks said he and other downtown business operators are still facing economic hardships and preparing for a possible regression into Phase 3 -- or worse.
"We're nowhere near out of the woods," he said.
The street closures, special permits and other temporary provisions have been a success so far, aldermen said, though they urged businesses to remain vigilant about social distancing protocols.
Extending the alfresco program until Oct. 31 gives restaurants some direction to adjust their business plans and invest in more permanent outdoor dining infrastructure, Alderman David Pietryla said.
It also provides some comfort to customers who are still nervous to eat inside, said Stephen Mayer, owner of Flagship on the Fox at 100 S. Riverside Ave.
Despite the heat, he said, the restaurant's outdoor dining area, which covers a portion of Walnut Avenue, was a more popular option over the past weekend than the indoor tables.
Flagship owners are willing to work with operators of the adjacent Arcada Theatre, should the road closure create a logistical issue for its eventual reopening, said Conrad Hurst, who owns both properties. Opening the street any sooner than Oct. 31 could put the restaurant at a competitive disadvantage, he said.
"Everyone I'm affiliated with over there has a tremendously cooperative spirit," he said. "I think this has brought the community together all around."