Garfield County restaurants prepare for winter dining
Al fresco doesn’t have to mean all freezing.
Help is available for restaurants that want to maintain their outdoor seating through the winter. A recent letter from Gov. Jared Polis asked Colorado mayors to work toward this goal.
“The state, local communities and the restaurant industry must work together to find creative ways to maintain expanded outdoor dining despite colder weather, such as municipally operated fire pits, space heaters and tenting,” the letter said.
In Garfield County, municipalities are approaching this in different ways.
Glenwood Springs has received a $50,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Transportation for the purchase of winter warming equipment. The city chipped in $5,000, and will purchase the equipment in which businesses express an interest and then loan it to them.
“I’m in the process now of gauging interest and needs of businesses around town. We’re pretty flexible about what we can buy, but the purpose is to allow social distancing and provide more public health awareness throughout winter,” city economic development specialist Matt Nuñez said.
No one is envisioning a free-for-all tent city.
“In most cases, the equipment will be limited to the property boundary or the existing outdoor dining areas with permits,” Nunez said, but there is the possibility to extend onto sidewalks with proper safety considerations.
The assistance is not limited to restaurants. Nunez said about 40% of the inquiries have come from other types of businesses.
“Some interest has come from local nonprofits and some of our local tourist attractions,” Nunez said.
Nunez currently doesn’t anticipate having to deny any requests due to lack of funding, but should he get more interest than the city has funding for he has a logical plan.
“Requests will be prioritized on their feasibility and also on the greatest impact to allow the most traffic in a responsible and safe manner,” he said.
Overall this program is about providing assistance to the businesses that ask for it.
“We certainly want to be able to support our business community however we can. I would encourage anybody who has any interest or questions about how to continue business operations through the winter to reach out to me at any point,” he said.
Steve Nieslanik, manager at Masala & Curry, is enthusiastic about continuing outdoor seating, and said he has already put in applications with the city for heaters and an enclosure.
“Outside seating gets us back to almost 100% [capacity],” he said.
The city has some concerns about snow plowing around tents, he said.
“They’re having a problem with snow removal. My thought was to use [a tent] through the end of November, then take a couple of months off, then put it up again,” he said.
Carbondale is using CARES Act funding to help restaurants.
“Carbondale is making our CARES Act funding available for winter warming equipment if it’s purchased prior to Dec. 30,” senior planner Janet Buck said.
She said the town has $390,000 available.
Unlike Glenwood, Carbondale would award a grant to a business to buy its own equipment, which the business would then own, Buck said.
Restaurants on Main Street have enjoyed traffic-free extensions of their dining areas during the summer, needing to break them down enough to allow traffic during the day.
That requirement will be stepped up in the winter.
“The Main Street dining areas must be temporary and removed during winter storms,” Buck said, to allow for removal of ice and snow.
Grant applications are available on the town website. Requests for more than $7,500 must be in by Sept. 30, and requests for $7,500 or less will be accepted until the grant money runs out.
“We’re trying to be as flexible as we can to help businesses,” Buck said.
Reece Ettelson, manager at the Village Smithy, said the restaurant is planning to enclose its covered deck.
“We’ll get six more tables out there,” she said, as compared to previous winters.
Ettelson said Village Smithy is not planning to apply for a grant for the project.
Rifle is taking two approaches to helping businesses.
City Planner Nathan Lindquist said Rifle is also seeking a CDOT grant, but it would be for a sidewalk on Second Street. Parking is largely taken up on Third Street thanks to the city building “parklets” — wooden platforms —for outdoor dining space. Lindquist said more people are parking on Second Street and walking to Third, so it would be nice to provide a sidewalk for them.
The city also has CARES Act funding available, but the city hasn’t yet formalized a plan to make that available.
“We’ve also got CARES Act funding. We could do grants for businesses from that,” Lindquist said. But he said first the city wants to know if businesses would rather have parking over the winter.
“Parking becomes more of an issue in the winter,” he said.
Lindquist said the city has $240,000 available in CARES Act funding.
Brickhouse Pizzeria in Rifle is thinking about winter dining but hasn’t made any firm decision yet.
“We only have seven tables on the inside with no bar seating,” so the outdoor seating is essential, said manager Natalya Helmick.
She said the no-cost lease on Brickhouse’s parklet is up at the end of October, so it depends on what the city decides to do.
What do diners think?
Virginia and Gary Gerst of Chicago and Snowmass Village were eating lunch at Village Smithy in Carbondale on Thursday. Winter dining for them is a bit uncertain.
“We’ve only been to a few places outside. We refuse to eat inside,” Gary Gerst said.
Eating in a tented outdoor space would be much the same as eating indoors.
“It’s all about air circulation. I don’t see how they can get air circulation in a tent,” Virginia Gerst said.
Down the road at Peppino’s, Gaby Mata and Francis Lozano were sharing a meal outside. They are not so concerned about indoor dining.
“Inside is fine,” Mata said, though she liked the idea of eating outside in winter in a heated area.
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