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Charleston businesses excited by expanded outdoor dining

Published: Jul. 16, 2020 at 5:37 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - The City of Charleston is expanding its outdoor dining program after a successful opening weekend.

The program will close Capitol and Hale streets from 7 a.m. Friday to 7 a.m. Monday to allow restaurants more time to set up and break down their outdoor dining setups. It will also allow for a outdoor lunch service and happy hour on Friday.

“Everyone deserves the opportunity to survive,” said Joe Guilfoile, owner of Big Joe’s Bar and Grill. “Basically, without something like this, we are not going to make it. It’s just not going to happen. You can’t, the set bills are so high that the revenue coming in doesn’t even meet those. It’s only so long that landlords and power companies are going to be forgiving.”

Guilfoile said he was able to serve about 100 more customers last weekend with five tables he placed outdoors in the closed street. That helped make up for revenue that was lost by the COVID shutdown and capacity limits.

“We are socially distant and everything is sanitized, so you are safe inside, as well,” Guilfoile said. “We are working the best that we can and we are learning as we go.”

Charleston Mayor Amy Goodwin said many restaurants saw their highest sales of the year, matching numbers normally seen on New Year’s Eve. That’s helping businesses and the city recover lost revenue.

“The return on investment is monumental for the city of Charleston,” Mayor Goodwin said, noting only a few overtime hours are needed to staff and secure the dining program. “We have lost revenues in the city of Charleston, the state and in the country. Unless and until we start being creative and nimble, as we are being, we won’t see our revenues increase.”

Goodwin said closing the streets to cars also makes downtown more attractive for people walking and riding bikes. Those people are more likely to stop in shops and make purchases than people driving into town and quickly picking something up from a business.

“We have to do every single thing that we can to make sure we are closing that gap, because remember the CARES funding does not provide for revenue losses,” Goodwin said.

Another business seeing a boost from the road closure is Axes and Ales. They are still limited on how many axe-throwing lanes can be open at a time, but the outdoor dining allows them to serve more customers by using tables that would normally be off limits because of indoor capacity limits.

“It definitely helps,” throwing instructor England Roncal said. “There has been a significant influx. We have been a lot more cohesive. Getting a lot more people in, especially in the last two weeks.”

Goodwin said if this weekend continues to be successful downtown, the city will look at expanding to other areas including Bridge Road, Kanawha City, the East End and near West Side.

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