COVID19 had dealt a devastating blow to the restaurant industry. After being closed completely for months, restaurants began to reopen, faced with the reality of reduced capacity and a public reluctant to dine out even with strict protocols in place. As soon as the opportunity presented itself, the City of Malden began working with local restaurants to enable them to extend dining outdoors in the most safe, efficient way possible. “This isn’t a one size fits all approach,” commented Mayor Gary Christenson. “We were after real solutions that actually helped Malden restauranteurs. To accomplish this, we created an expedited process to approve new outdoor dining areas. That meant we fast-tracked all the applications and the inspections and held Licensing Board meetings each week to process all the restaurants as they applied. By doing so, we let them know their success was important to us and we were going to help them in every way we could.” The expedited process allowed restaurants to apply for a variety of outdoor seating options that included dining on sidewalks, in on-street parking spaces, and in parking lots. In total there were twenty restaurants who applied for expanded outdoor seating and all twenty applicants received approvals. Some restaurants were able to easily utilize existing outdoor space on-premises to extend dining outdoors. Faces on Pleasant Street was able to convert their back-parking lot and create an outdoor dining room. “The City of Malden allowed us to turn our parking area into an outdoor dining space, which has immeasurably helped us adapt to the changing hospitality industry in the wake of the pandemic,” commented Dan Martignetti Jr., owner of Faces Brewing Company. Similarly, Pearl Street Station expanded dining to their parking lot. “The City made it easy,” commented Pearl Street manager Paul Solano. “Working with the Mayor’s office, we were able to quickly get approval to begin outdoor dining in our parking lot.”
Although the Traffic Commission has authorized the use of on-street parking citywide for outdoor dining, many successful and experienced operators have decided it isn’t viable for them. As expressed by Dan Martignetti, Jr. of Faces Brewing Company, “Many of our customers have expressed feeling more comfortable dining in our beer garden than inside but expanding our outdoor space into the street is not something that interests us. People feel safe and comfortable in our socially distanced beer garden, so expanding it and placing our customers near oncoming traffic and exhaust fumes is not a worthwhile endeavor, in our eyes.”
The City received a single request for on-street dining, but multiple officials expressed concern over the risk to customers being so close to vehicular traffic and exhaust fumes. However, committed to creating the requested capacity in a safe way, the City’s building commissioner came with a measuring tape and helped work out a plan to add the requested outdoor seating, but in a safer way along the sidewalk. It was one of many instances where the Mayor’s team worked with restaurant owners to help them solve the challenge of their unique circumstances. “The Mayor’s team helped me understand the best way to utilize my parking lot so I could maximize my seating, and they worked with me on my tents so I could offer my customers a comfortable experience,” said Lawrence Williams, owner of the Doo Wop Diner on Main Street. As we hold out hope for a vaccine to arrive soon, all these hard-working restaurants and their employees look forward to the day when restaurants can operate at capacity with lively bars and entertainment. When that will be is anyone’s guess.