Pandemic ‘Silver Lining:' Cities, Towns Planning for More Outdoor Dining

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As Gov. Ned Lamont’s emergency order to expand outdoor dining is winding down, many towns and cities want to keep this option on the menu.

So they’re taking matters into their own hands.

New Haven city officials say part of Orange Street will once again be closed to host more outdoor dining this summer and they’re looking at other options too.

“We’re hoping and planning to expand and do that on a much larger basis this year,” said Robert Ellis, acting deputy economic development administrator for the City of New Haven.

“As it gets warmer out people want to be outside more, so having these tables out will absolutely be huge for us. We’re excited for it,” said Alejandro Cordido, who opened Somos, a Venezuelan fast, casual concept eatery, with his brother last summer.

Ellis says the city has streamlined the permit process, so hopefully more people can be served outdoors.

Officials will be hosting a virtual webinar March 16 at 1 p.m. to answer questions about the process.

“We continue to get applicants that are in search of increasing their seating and their dining capacity, so this helps them. Especially with the weather about to break, this is a good opportunity to do a trial and see if it works or not,” said Ellis.

Plus, he says the city is also offering a grant initiative and architectural guidance to make this more of a permanent experience.

“Having the opportunity to give some of these business owners and property owners the opportunity to upgrade the façade and supplement some of the efforts,” he said.

New Haven isn’t alone in their advanced preparations. West Hartford’s town council is set to discuss an extension of their outdoor dining program Tuesday night.

Middletown’s mayor also hopes to support businesses looking to expand al fresco seating too.

“We want people downtown and people want to be out and about especially on a day like today and we want to do whatever we can to support these businesses,” said Mayor Benjamin Florsheim.

He says restaurants who want to participate this season should reach out to the city's economic development staff.

Tuesday's March sunshine displays the demand for outdoor seating all too clearly.

“It’s great that it’s pushing more American restaurants to open outdoor seating. It reminds me of Europe, so I think that’s one silver lining of the pandemic for sure,” said Rebecca Fuerst of New Haven, dining outdoors at South Bay in New Haven with a group of friends Tuesday.

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