Many businesses have struggled to make it through the pandemic, with space and social distance guidelines restricting occupancy.
“To have 100 percent capacity but you still have to do six feet distancing, we’re small, you know. It’s an intimate restaurant, we have 38 seats,” said Marc Sincavage, part-owner of the Skappo and Merkato restaurants.
On Friday, New Haven officials announced a new grant program to help businesses use every inch of space under pandemic guidelines.
“We would come out with our architect and project manager,” said Michael Piscitelli, New Haven’s economic development administrator. “We’d put the customer in the middle of the room, try to figure out exactly what the needs are, and see if we can try to make something work for them.”
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It would allow designers to come up with ways to help both inside and out, said Piscitelli. He added that businesses have carried a lot of weight under the pandemic.
“For instance, with a restaurant, this always gives the flexibility with more seating, more outdoor seating to help generate sales,” said Piscitelli.
It’s one of the ways the city is adding more support for local restaurants and businesses. Closing off part of Orange Street is another.
Alejandro Cordido owns Somos, a Venezuelan restaurant that’s among 47 businesses that opened during the pandemic.
“The promenade brings people down here, so even if they’re not coming to eat with us, there are so many things to do down here on Orange Street,” said Cordido.
The first outdoor dining promenade in Ninth Square launched Friday, with a second planned for College Street next week.
Owners like Cordido and Sincavage said the promenade and outdoor dining platforms were a significant help last year. They allowed expanded dining during the first few months of the pandemic, which helped their bottom line.
They’re excited for this year and hoping indoor and outdoor dining will help. But some say there’s a long way to go in recovery.
“There’s a lot of optimism right now but obviously we’re not through to the end of this,” said Garrett Sheehan, the CEO of Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce.
“Businesses are just starting to have outdoor dining back. That’s going to make a big difference, but it doesn’t take away all that they have had to go through over the last several months," he continued.
The city said there’s $40,000 in new outdoor furniture available from the city and Avangrid. It follows an outdoor dining bill that was passed in the state legislature to help ease local zoning restrictions, all in an effort to get businesses back on track.
“So if people are weary about coming out to eat, at least the outside option gives them a chance to say 'hey, let me check out this new restaurant,'” said Cordido.