Not all pandemic impacts bad for business, Raleigh outdoor dining is here to stay

Wake County News

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Like everyone else, businesses had to make some harsh adjustment at the height of the pandemic.

Many had to shutter their doors for good. The Downtown Raleigh Alliance found businesses experienced a 60 percent drop in sales from the first quarter to second quarter of 2020.

For the lucky ones that survived, tools like to-go orders and outdoor seating became a lifeline.

The city designated dozens of parking spaces as curbside pickup zones. DRA said in their public realm study that more outdoor dining “will help downtown businesses recover fast and add vibrancy to our street-level experience.”

A study by the city and DRA found 85 percent of study respondents wanted to see more on-street sidewalk extensions downtown to expand outdoor dining space.

The city heard that support and has now made outdoor dining permanent.

City leaders agreed to spend $500,000 from their American Rescue Plan funding to expand outdoor dining. The city will create up to 20 permanent outdoor dining extensions for businesses.

“It’s all to continue to help support our local businesses during these challenging times,” said Whitney Schoenfeld coordinator of Emergency Management, Special Events, and Hospitality with the City of Raleigh.

The city would construct the platforms, walls and security measures.

Businesses would be responsible for installing any plants, furnishings or heaters to personalize them. The spaces would take up what’s traditionally been parking or loading spaces.

“We’re just really trying to get people to re-imagine what has been and look ahead to something more exciting in the future. I think a lot of the public will see these and think that’s a pretty cool use of space,” said Schoenfeld.

The city hoped it could create a more vibrant and lively community downtown. It’s also a way to offer dining options for people still not completely comfortable dining indoor.

Schoenfeld said like outdoor dining, curbside pickup zones outside restaurants and retailers may also stick around.

“Especially with the holiday season approaching- doing your retail shopping, just pulling up to the curb and grabbing what you’re getting and going ahead and leaving. So again, just re-imagining what parking spaces have traditionally been and converting them into something more vibrant and lively,” said Schoenfeld.

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