City administrators in both Corvallis and Albany took measures recently to expand the space that local businesses have to operate.
For some owners, the newly implemented guidelines could be a lifeline during a time when many small businesses are struggling.
The city of Corvallis announced a program earlier this month allowing businesses to use parking spaces in city parking lots and city-managed spots in the right-of-way adjacent to their buildings for business operations.
The result is more seating space for restaurants and more room for retail shops to display merchandise.
For restaurants that were forced to reduce their seating capacity in order to abide by state guidelines during the pandemic, the extra room has provided an immediate boost.
“Because of social distancing and everything, being able to open things out to the street has been great,” said Dave Seidel, owner of Treebeerd’s Taphouse in Corvallis. “The city really came through for us.”
Similarly, the city of Albany recently rolled out an application that will allow approved businesses to use the public right-of-way — specifically, the sidewalk — for expanded seating.
“During the summer, this is going to be spectacular for us,” said Shawna Turkins, owner of Homegrown Oregon Foods.
For Corvallis, the plan to provide businesses with more space came about shortly after Benton County was approved for Phase 1 of Gov. Kate Brown’s plan to reopen the state during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It quickly became clear that, due to social distancing mandates, many restaurants were only going to achieve a small portion of their typical dine-in business.
So the city began working in tandem with the Downtown Corvallis Association to get feedback from local owners about whether or not using right-of-way space could be beneficial. In particular, businesses along Second Street showed interest, and the city explored different scenarios of how to best use the space.
“We just wanted to put the program out there for people who need help,” said Jerry Sorte with the Corvallis-Benton County Economic Development Office. “We didn’t want to paint with a broad brush for any one large area necessarily, but just allow businesses to take advantage of the parking closures adjacent to their own businesses.”
Sorte wanted the application process to be streamlined and straightforward, and he said the city is aiming to get businesses approved within a day of them submitting an application. He said the city plans to review the program after two weeks to find out if changes can be applied to make it more effective.
For now, permits issued will be valid through Sept. 30.
“I think this is huge in helping restaurants recover some of the money they would have made with everything going on,” said Jennifer Moreland, executive director of the Downtown Corvallis Association.
Moreland believes the permit could be particularly beneficial for retail businesses during the Crazy Days Summer Sidewalk Sale that will take place the second week of July.
In the case of Albany’s expanded seating application, which can be found at the city’s website, the approval process is also intended to be swift in order to give businesses a helping hand as quickly as possible.
“We recognize that businesses are trying to get reopened, and we want them to get reopened,” said Matthew Ruettgers, Albany's development services manager. “We’ve been trying to move very quickly; businesses so far have been meeting our main driving requirement, which is to maintain an ADA-compliant path on our public sidewalk.”
Ruettgers said that if a business does not wish to use the area in front of its building, it can allow a neighboring business to use it, which could be helpful for owners who have limited or obstructed space to work with.
The permit is citywide, and not just limited to downtown businesses, Ruettgers said. But downtown businesses in particular will benefit because of the wide sidewalks along storefronts.
Approved permits will be good through Oct. 31.
“Even if we’re only able to add three tables, that’s still three more tables that we can seat throughout the whole day,” said Lane Brown, owner of Brick & Mortar Cafe. “Especially in the summertime, with the good weather. It helps us to make back a little bit of what we’ve lost.”
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