At the recent Community Board 7 meeting, board members enthusiastically passed a resolution for the use of outdoor space for restaurants and other small businesses during the recovery time from the Covid-19 crisis.
The board noted that the backbone of the UWS economy is restaurants and retail. As of March 2020, they accounted for 50% of all employment in NYC. In was also stated that there was job growth in the restaurant and hospitality industries prior to March 2020, which were helping to keep unemployment numbers low.
The UWS attracts tourists from all over the world who come to visit the Natural History Museum, Lincoln Center, and many other famous attractions. Tourism is an important pillar of the UWS economy, and restaurants and small businesses keep the UWS experience a desired destination.
The CB7 board acknowledges in its resolution that “We also depend on our restaurants to provide everything from a night out, someone else to cook and clear, fare for every conceivable occasion, from a special occasion celebration at a destination venue to takeout as a break from at-home cooking to an on-the-go tide-meover, to opportunities with ambiance to meet with friends.” Basically, we need and love them.
The board recognized the impact of the economic shutdown and how damaging it has been for restaurant owners. With months of little to no activity, many places Upper West Siders eat and shop at are on the brink of closing. While some federal, city, and state programs have helped them make it this far, it’s not sustainable for the future.
With the blueprint for the city’s reopening not entirely set, CB7 wants to keep the restaurants and small businesses afloat. This is where outdoor space can help encourage more business.
“The creative use of outdoor spaces, including portions of sidewalks, the curbside or street bed, public plazas, privately operated public spaces, and single-purpose open spaces (collectively, “Outdoor Spaces”), is essential to supplement the capacity of our restaurants and small businesses and give them a fighting chance at survival,” states the resolution.
The board reasons that outdoor space can be used until other restrictions are lifted and operations can return to a more normal state. The board noted that assistance will be needed from Business Improvement Districts and Neighborhood Associations to make sure this program can be viable.
There are some challenges that CB7 noted. “Current regulations severely limit the ability of restaurants to use Outdoor Spaces, and functionally prohibit any other business from doing so,” the board stated. “In order to implement a plan that allows for the creative use of Outdoor Spaces, various regulations must be relaxed, suspended or deferred.”
Overall, the CB7 board supports the use of opening space in the street for restaurants and small businesses so they can get back on their feet, but also they want to ensure that workers remain safe and healthy. The board calls on the Governor and the Mayor, along with various other city agencies, to modify their application of laws and regulations to make this possible. They also ask the Mayor to appoint a lead so that coordination with the city can take place for the implementation of opening the streets. They also note that it would be of importance to make sure that opening streets would not interfere with bus routes and other mass transit, and to make sure it would not cause undo disturbance to neighbors.
The CB7 Board is looking forward to seeing streets open to support our UWS restaurants and small businesses. They took the first step by approving more space for 8th Hill Restaurant (on 77th and Columbus) to have a four-year permit to operate a sidewalk café with 18 tables and 54 seats. While this sidewalk cafe will not be extending into the street, it was approved more quickly than it would have been in the past.