The Northfield City Council on June 2 green lighted an emergency ordinance allowing restaurants to sell food and alcohol on adjoining sidewalks and public parking spaces as COVID-19 restrictions continue to close indoor dining.

Businesses seeking to operate on sidewalks or public parking spaces must submit an application to the city. The council’s action is similar to measures taken in cities across the country as many states have restrictions limiting indoor dining to a certain capacity or a complete ban on indoor dining, as is the case in Minnesota.

Downtown restaurant Smoqehouse General Manager Nicole Shavie said the business doesn’t have outdoor seating, so the order doesn’t impact them. Despite that, she said takeout orders have been substantial and are working well.

She said as long as tables are adequately spaced from each other and proper safety precautions are taken, Smoqehouse should be allowed to reopen.

James Gang Owner Tanya Mollenhauer said council action could allow for her business to expand patio space and enable dining in those areas.

Community Development Director Mitzi Baker said the city has received interest from a handful of businesses interested in offering outdoor seating and service areas. She noted some are eager to implement the measure, others are contemplating and more might pursue the option in the future.

“It is difficult to know how many businesses will use the ordinance, but we already know some will,” she said. “Whether establishing outdoor seating and service areas is viable, requires more intimate knowledge about business operations and profit margins. It will be an individual business decision. The ordinance also creates flexibility for drive up takeout parking or lanes, and some may choose to use that element.”

Baker said council approval should minimize delays in setting up outdoor formats during the pandemic. Additionally, she expects the option will open opportunities for downtown-area businesses, where many don’t have outdoor seating room on their own properties.

“The city is open to using some downtown parking spaces for customer seating, which will be especially important where outdoor service areas would otherwise not be available,” Baker said.

B&L Pizza has decided not to open for in-person dining temporarily despite the council order due to the extensive number of state requirements.

Kayla Valek, the daughter of the restaurant’s owners, said customers had expressed apprehension at wearing full masks outside. She noted delivery and curbside pickups have gone well for B&L.

“Our plan is to obviously open in the future,” she said. To Valek, although the restaurant hasn’t yet created extensive financial issues, she expects the next couple of weeks to months to determine the overall financial impact as people start to take advantage of outdoor patios.

“We’re just thankful for the customers we’ve had,” she said.

Baker said some businesses have property that could allow for outdoor seating, while others don’t have that option.

“This just makes so much sense,” said Councilor Brad Ness.

“It’s a good move.”

Reach Associate Editor Sam Wilmes at 507-645-1115. © Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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