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Outdoor dining looks to boost business

Published: Jul. 10, 2020 at 8:20 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - Capitol and Hale streets have been closed in downtown Charleston between Kanawha Boulevard and Lee Street for restaurants to offer expanded outdoor dining space.

This weekend’s closing is a test of the city’s new outdoor dining initiative that could be expanded to other weekends and areas if it is successful.

“It is cool to see the city take a proactive step like that to allow people who normally wouldn’t want to come in and be in close quarters with everybody to come out, get something to eat and hang out with your friends,” Bar 101 bartender Lance Lykins said.

The roads were closed at 3 Friday afternoon to allow businesses to set up for dinner service. Restaurants were required to provide their own tables and chairs, and some even had tents to protect customers from the elements.

“When you add extra outdoor seating for everybody, it allows everyone to get their numbers back up to what they were before this COVID crisis,” Lykins said, noting they often have a line at the door on Friday and Saturday nights, only letting one person in for every person who exits after their 40-person capacity is reached.

“I think people will be really interested just because they want to get out of the house,” The Consignment Shop owner Tammy Krepshaw said. “I think a lot of people in town have wanted this for a long time. I just hope it is a positive for everybody, like the people are shared throughout the whole street, and we all benefit from it.”

Krepshaw said her shop normally closes at 6 p.m. each night, but she is going to remain open as long as people are coming into her store to capitalize on the foot traffic that’s been missing for months due to the COVID shutdown.

“Summer customers are really travelers, and we don’t have that at all,” Krepshaw said. “We are struggling, and it is just something we have to get through.”

While restaurants and bars along Capitol and Hale were expanding their dining rooms into the street on Friday, businesses in other areas of town were preparing for their normal routines.

NOSH moved from Charleston’s East End to Summers Street just before the shutdown and has missed out of the crowds they expected to see from Live on the Levee and Art Walk.

“Over here on Summers Street, we have a lot of really good restaurants that could benefit from that, and so I think moving it over, just one more street could really, really help the businesses here,” NOSH owner Chelsie Rankin said. “It would give the people of Charleston and the people who are traveling here a lot more places to explore and feel like we are not all stuck at home again.”

Rankin said they are already planning a possible dinner service and happy hour in their restaurant space and on the sidewalk out in front of their business -- if the city expands the outdoor dining road closures. They currently have four tables outside but would like to expand that since their indoor seating has been cut in half.

“You can tell that not everyone is back to work yet, so it is kind of slow but we have really high hopes for when everything gets back to the new normal,” Rankin said. “We will be up and running as well as we can be, so I am excited.”

The roads will remain closed through 9 p.m. Sunday. Restaurant owners said they are allowed to operate outside to their normal indoor business hours, so that could be as late as midnight or last call for some establishments.

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