Charleston extending outdoor dining program

Published: Oct. 22, 2020 at 7:01 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - The city of Charleston will extend its outdoor dining program through the end of November, allowing restaurants to expand their dining rooms onto parts of Capital and Hale Streets on weekends.

“It will allow our businesses to keep that additional seating and have extra places for our families to go and be outside together during this time,” city spokesperson Mackenzie Spencer said. “You’re downtown, you’re walking around, it’s a nice day outside. You’re popping into some of our local shops. You’re talking to some local business owners, and really making some of those connections with some of our services. It really does impact the entire area right there.”

The city will continue to block off Capital and Hale streets from Friday morning until Sunday night for businesses to increase their capacity. West Virginia’s COVID-19 reopening plan limits indoor dining space to 50 percent at restaurants and bars. WSAZ reached out to Gov. Jim Justice’s office to see if the capacity will be increased with outdoor dining options limited by cooler winter weather, and did not receive a response.

“There is no end in site to being 75 or 100 percent, just due to everything escalating,” Pies and Pints manager Lauren Bramble said. “The outdoor dining program has benefited not only our servers, but our customers, so they can come enjoy themselves in a safe environment.”

The program has allowed Pies and Pints to continue serving customers while social distancing, and allowed servers to earn a living after being closed for months, Bramble said. With colder weather on the way, they have started putting walls on the sides of tents and adding propane heaters to dining set ups.

“We will be playing it by ear because sometimes in November you get that 70-degree day or sometimes you get that 40-degree day,” Bramble said. “It’s just honestly looking at the weather for the weekend.”

Pies and Pints might not open for any outdoor dining on a November weekend with really bad weather, Bramble said.

Not all businesses have benefited from the outdoor dining program, and owners were hoping it would have stopped at the end of October. Tammy Krepshaw is the owner of The Consignment Company, which has seen only about 25 percent of normal business on weekends since the outdoor dining program started.

“It has really really been a struggle,” Krepshaw said. “This is saddening, that they’re going to be extending it through November, for small businesses that don’t deliver food.”

Krepshaw was hoping the city would eliminate the road closure on Friday to give her one weekend day to help customers. She was originally hopeful the additional foot traffic would give her a boost, but instead it has reduced business.

“If they are going to take all three days from us again, then you don’t know if your businesses are going to be here for the rest of the year," Krepshaw said. "I don’t think this is fair.”

Also struggling for business is Big Joe’s Bar and Grill. Owner Joe Guilfoile said outdoor dining customers are sporadic and takeout sales, which they relied on for months, have dried up.

“I will take whatever they will let me have,” Guilfoile said about the extended outdoor dining. “We’re just trying to stay in business.”

Guilfoile said outdoor dining will hopefully make downtown Charleston a destination, where people can socially distance while eating and drinking. However, he has not seen an even distribution and flow of customers up and down Capital Street.

“Who knows what tomorrow holds until you turn on the television and see what color your county is in?" Guilfoile said. "You don’t know what your plans are, what you are going to do. Getting people together and getting plans made has to be a big deal.”

“We have the dining closures of the streets, but we also have these bagged meters at retailers, at restaurants, at a lot of local businesses so people can pop in and out and get the things they need,” Spencer said.

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