Restaurateur Sarah McClean has requested that City of Powell River lobby for outdoor eating spaces for local restaurants.
McClean, owner and operator of three dine-in restaurants on Marine Avenue, told city councillors at their May 21 meeting that as the province moved into phase two of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses that were negatively affected are left to pick up the pieces and create a new normal.
“For my industry, the new normal is anything but that,” said McClean. “The restaurant industry has been absolutely devastated by this pandemic. It is feared that the devastation and financial impact has only begun.
“Polling is showing that 50 per cent of restaurants may not reopen at all, or may not be able to alter their concept so it can be sustainable under the new guidelines.”
McClean said she is not immune to this statistic.
“Since March 15 we have been operating two of our restaurants in a takeout and delivery model under the guidelines of the provincial health order, and the other of my restaurants has been closed,” said McClean. “During this time, we have laid off close to 50 employees.
“Our federal and provincial governments have done an amazing job supporting us; we wouldn’t have been able to stay open without using every one of the temporary supports made available. We continue to operate the two restaurants with an average loss of 70 per cent in sales over last year.”
McClean said she invests in her people as a priority and that produces a low margin in an already-low margin industry.
“I am in trouble,” she said. “Jobs in this community are in trouble.”
Powell River’s restaurant scene needs mayor and council’s support now more than ever, according to McClean. She said many communities across the nation are implementing new guidelines to support economic stability and social distancing. She quoted a ministry of transportation and infrastructure (MOTI) recommendation on relocation of roadway space for physical distancing: “municipalities around the world are using temporary lane and road closures to provide extra space for people walking and cycling and this may be an option for BC municipalities.”
McClean said these kinds of guidelines are allowing expansion to outdoor dining programs being quickly approved so eating places can capitalize on good weather.
“Guidelines from the province continue to highlight that outdoor dining is the safest way to bring the community back together while keeping businesses operating,” said McClean. “We’re working with MABA (Marine Area Business Association), as well as gaining feedback from other business owners that extensions of their patios is an important next step. Additionally, some of the successful parklet programs in other communities already rolling include underutilized municipal space that provides areas for customers to sit and enjoy their food without it being attached to the restaurant.”
McClean said she was asking for council’s support to use its clout with MOTI to help get patio parklets temporarily allowed in a few of the parking stalls on Marine Avenue.
“These tasteful and safely built temporary structures will act as an additional dining space for restaurants that wish to participate for the summer season,” said McClean. “Give us a fighting chance to not have to close our doors for good.
“They will instantly beautify the Marine Mile and excite our residents with a step forward they can see. I understand Powell River has been in talks for years with MOTI about adjusting the speed limit on Marine and these parklets will be a natural traffic calmer to continue to make Marine Avenue a safe and vibrant place to enjoy the downtown core.”
McClean asked for council’s support to expedite patio expansions throughout the city, and to work with MOTI on approving patio parklets on Marine Avenue.
According to a May 22 media release from the provincial government, it has taken action to support the province’s hospitality sector by temporarily authorizing expansion of service areas, such as patios, to support physical distancing requirements and industry recovery during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The release stated that to support businesses in reopening efforts, the liquor and cannabis regulation branch will now permit food-primary, liquor-primary and manufacturer licensees such as breweries and distilleries, to apply through a simplified online process to temporarily expand their service areas until October 31, 2020.
City council voted to direct staff to contact MOTI, notifying them that the city requests an expedited permit allowing outdoor patios in parking spaces along Marine Avenue from Wharf Street to Alberni Street, and also that the speed limit on Marine Avenue be reducing to 30 kilometres per hour for the duration of this project.