Street dining could be permanent under Lightfoot proposal

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A pandemic that wreaked havoc on restaurants may also produce a silver lining—at least that’s the hope of Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot as she moves to make outdoor dining provisions spurred by COVID-19 permanent .

Lightfoot has formally introduced a proposal without an end date, rules that allow eligible eateries to set up tables on roadways in front of their establishments, limit traffic lanes or completely block certain sections of roads. Close to traffic.

Those rules, introduced in 2020 and extended twice by the end of this year, allowed some restaurants to reopen during the early months of the pandemic while maintaining social distancing and limiting indoor gatherings.

Under the new proposal, restaurants and bars can apply for an annual permit to expand street dining from May 1 to October 31. People with too narrow sidewalks for sidewalk cafes will be able to sit in curb lanes, and businesses in groups of three or more will be able to apply for complete street closures.

A city news release said the plan, which would have to be passed by the city council, “incorporates feedback and lessons learned over the past two years to help eligible restaurants take responsibility on the street in front of or near their establishment.” to continue working.” ,

Lightfoot said in the release, “I am delighted that Chicago is now building on the success of this program and establishing long-term ways to invite dining venues to our neighborhoods to support our hospitality and dining industries. “

Following the abrupt closure of indoor dining in March 2020, some restaurants pivoted To curb pickup or grocery delivery, but many could not survive and were closed for good. Lightfoot was cautious about allowing restaurants to reopen a few months later, Long waits in many parts of the area and state. But around the same time, at the end of May 2020, he Extended Outdoor Dining Permit launchedA measure she now wants to codify.

Lightfoot has previously indicated its interest in expanding outdoor dining beyond pandemic parameters. in March 2021She Launched Chicago Alfresco With the impetus to design “creative long-term outdoor spaces” for restaurants. She tweeted at the time: “Last spring, we expanded the food out of necessity. Now, we’re expanding because we love it.”

The commissioner of the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection said the new initiative is “an exciting next step in Chicago’s outdoor dining program, a fundamental part of Chicago’s vibrant dining scene.

“The Sustainable Expanded Outdoor Dining Program supports small businesses and neighborhoods, as it has since the beginning of its construction,” Commissioner Kenneth Meyer said in a release.

In three seasons of outdoor dining extended from 2020, the restaurant and bar have created shelters for diners in both hot weather and cold. The winners of the 2021 design competition for the winter food dreamed up heated tables and glass cabinsMany versions of which have been imposed during the winter spike in COVID-19 cases As the Omicron version grew,

Still, some restaurant owners have said that the cost of permits and a lack of communication from authorities, along with fears the barriers could turn takeout customers away, create a mixed bag when it comes to helping the bottom line. .

Lakeview was the first neighborhood to test an outdoor dining program in 2020, blocking North Broadway south of Belmont Avenue on the neighborhood’s east side.

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Melissa Bulger, general manager of no-frills Stella’s Diner Bustle, said closing the corridor is helpful but not important. “It doesn’t make a big difference, but obviously it allows us to seat more people, which is nice,” she said on Thursday.

In the Lower West Side area, Bacchanalia Ristorante is a family-owned Italian restaurant that focuses on classic dishes. Paula Pieri, who co-owns the restaurant with her brother, said the road closure in the Heart of Chicago neighborhood has been a boon to business.

“Some older people are still skeptical about what’s inside, so it really helps,” Pieri said.

The restaurant will continue to establish outdoor dining along South Oakley Street while guests are comfortable enough when the weather turns cold.

“Unfortunately, we can only take advantage when weather permits,” Pieri said. “We would love the igloos they have at Fulton Market, but they are so expensive.”

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