New West residents will be able to dine and drink at more outdoor patios than ever before this summer.
The city's business and local economy task force is reporting a sharp increase in the number of inquires about the city’s temporary patio and sidewalk café program. While some businesses took advantage of the program that was introduced last spring, an increasing number of businesses are getting on board and creating new outdoor spaces that will remain in place until Oct. 31.
“We didn’t have a lot of uptake last year because we were still in the early stage of the pandemic,” said Blair Fryer, the city’s manager of economic development and communications. “Many businesses were still trying to make decisions around staying open versus closing, and how long the pandemic was going to last. So this year, when the circuit breaker went in in late March, businesses became very aware of the need to take advantage of the temporary patio program that we initiated last year. We saw a lot more uptake this year.”
To ensure local businesses were aware of the temporary patio opportunity, city staff went door-to-door and spoke to every food establishment in the city, Fryer said.
In addition to the three city-operated parklets established in response to COVID in 2020, Fryer said 20 new patios or parklets have been created on public property in front of businesses or on private property owned by those establishments.
“We are absolutely pleased with the response. Number 1, it is providing lots of additional opportunities for these businesses to better meet their previous occupancy, which helps them not only survive during the pandemic but assists in recovery as we roll out of it,” he said. “It also has really created a different feel and look on our streetscape, which has been quite interesting.”
Fryer said the city has had lots of positive feedback from residents about how much they appreciate having the opportunity to eat outside and how much they like seeing people enjoying themselves outside – in the middle of a pandemic.
Last May, the provincial government took steps to support the province’s hospitality sector by temporarily authorizing the expansion of service areas, such as patios, to support physical distancing requirements and industry recovery during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fryer noted the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation branch temporarily expanded the area where food businesses could serve food and liquor, while the provincial health orders tell businesses what time they have to stop patio service, which is 10 p.m.
Helping businesses survive the pandemic
Fryer said economic development staff work with other divisions that would be involved in patio applications, as the patio designs proposed by the businesses must be reviewed for their compliance to safety and COVID-19 protocols before being given the green light.
“Under the normal patio program you would apply to put in a patio and there would be a cost associated,” he said. “There are no costs that the city puts on the business for these temporary patios. It’s really up to them to put up what they want.”
Although the applicants may need to adjust their insurance coverage to incorporate the patios, Fryer said the city is also waiving the fees it would normally charge for leasing of on-street parking spots.
“We are really keen on ensuring that as many businesses as possible continue to remain viable through the pandemic and, as importantly, emerge successfully on the other side,” he said.
Fryer said the temporary patio program is about working with businesses to ensure they make it through one of the most challenging times the community has ever faced.
“We have seen a lot of businesses be extremely resilient, be very creative in how they have been managing their business during the pandemic, and we are really hopeful that we continue to see more of this as we come through the tail end,” he said.
Fryer said the city continues to receive patio applications, and he expects to see more temporary patios pop up around town.
“You are seeing some really creative patio installations,” he said. “I think it really is a sign of how the businesses have taken this opportunity, not only to assist them through a pandemic but also to assist them in identifying them as a community business and an important part of the neighbourhood.”
Fryer said the patios can be found in all of the city’s commercial areas, including Queensborough, uptown, downtown, Sapperton and 12th Street.
“We definitely encourage people to head out and about into the community, and they’ll make some really great discoveries around these temporary patios,” he said.
Steel & Oak Brewing Company is among the local businesses that are keen about the patio program. Having built a temporary patio last summer (which is now being made permanent), the local craft brewery is now constructing a new temporary patio on a different side of its building.
Jorden Foss, co-owner of Steel & Oak, said some COVID-19 restrictions are loosening up, but many people still seem more comfortable being outdoors.
“We have also felt how great it is to have that patio,” he said. “We didn’t know what we were missing until we got it.”