OUTDOOR DINING ENCOURAGED, TOO
By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – It may not feel like a “special event,” but this summer, Cooperstown is going to celebrate – with a sale.
“By establishing a ‘special event,’ we can allow for sidewalk vending in certain locations,” said Deputy Mayor Cindy Falk told her Village Board colleagues Tuesday, May 26. “A lot of our shops are in smaller spaces, so it may be advantageous to them to be able to sell on the sidewalk.”
In an effort to help businesses and bring shoppers back downtown at un-PAUSE unfolds, the trustees then declared June 1 through Oct. 12 as a “special event,” dubbing it “Cooperstown Outdoors.”
Business owners in the Commercial District – Main Street – will be allowed to apply for a permit to hold sidewalk sales.
“It’s a chance to do something really creative,” said Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch.
Also discussed was outdoor dining, permitted since 2014. Several restaurants, including Mount Fuji, the Hard Ball Café and Mel’s at 22, have participated.
“Outdoor dining is going to save us,” said Brian Wrubleski, Mel’s. “There’s such good ambience.”
The Cooperstown village trustees reiterated their support of outdoor dining in Cooperstown during their meeting on Tuesday, May 26.
“We’re encouraging businesses to get their applications in,” said Tillapaugh. “That way, when the restrictions are lifted, everyone will be ready to go.”
Restaurants are slated for re-opening under Phase Three of un-PAUSE – mid-June at the earliest – but no guidelines have been issued for what that re-opening might look like.
“Restaurants are very much in favor of it,” said Village Trustee Rich Sternberg at Tuesday’s meeting, although he added, “Because of social distancing, many would only be able to have one out of every four tables open, and it wouldn’t be profitable.”
The Outdoor Dining law, established in 2014, allows restaurants to place seating out front, as long as there is still 5 feet of pedestrian space on the sidewalk.
As part of the Main and Chestnut redo, Wrubleski expanded his outdoor offerings from seating 16 to seating 32. Still, he said, “If we didn’t have COVID, I could get 45 people out here!”
Restaurants including Mount Fuji, Cooperstown Beverage Exchange and the Hard Ball Café have all offered outdoor dining in the past, but others are beginning to look into it to expand their business.
Stagecoach Coffee, owns land behind its building and patrons can lunch there.
In Oneonta, the idea is gaining also popularity in the age of COVID-19. “Hill City Grill has expressed interest, as has Wise Guys Sammy’s,” said Barbara Ann Heegan, president, Otsego County Chamber of Commerce.
The Board is waving all fees, but businesses have to provide proof of insurance, and vendors within three feet of a display window must get the owner’s permission.
Though vending is, at the time, limited to the sidewalk, the trustees did not rule out the possibility of closing the streets down for special shopping days or to better facilitate social distancing.
“We might find a way to go bigger,” said Trustee MacGuire Benton.
“It will be awhile before restaurants can fully re-open,” said Mayor Gary Herzig. “They won’t be able to operate as they did previously, they won’t be able to have a full house. Having outdoor seating allows restaurants to operate at greater capacity, while allowing people to feel safer.”
Currently, permits are not required for restaurants to put tables out in front of their restaurants, so long as there is still five feet of sidewalk for pedestrians.
However, Herzig said that other options are being explored, including closing down streets for special dining events.
“We don’t know what the plan is, but one thing we’ve explored is shutting down streets to traffic for special dining events,” he said.
Jaclyn Origoni, who owns Latte Lounge with her husband Adrien, said she had reached out to Herzig about tables in Muller Plaza.
“We don’t have much room to expand, but putting tables there would benefit not only us, but the other restaurants on Main Street as well,” she said. “Dining outside is a safe way to support local businesses, but not create a risk in gathering.”
Sternberg floated a similar idea in Cooperstown. “It might be reasonable to close Main Street Friday evenings and all day Sunday,” he said. “That way, people could still park and get to the Farmer’s Market or the stores.”
However, Trustee Cindy Falk noted that some customers might just want to get takeout, and closing the streets would keep them from coming downtown.
“Some people may not want to put on a mask and walk down Main Street,” she said. “It may still be scary for them and we need to have parking to accommodate that.”