Boulder extends outdoor dining, West Pearl closure through February

Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020

Outdoor dining will continue through the winter in Boulder, including street closures on University Hill and West Pearl. The city will also allow outdoor enclosures such as heated tents, in a bid to help restauranteurs still operating under reduced indoor capacity.

On-street dining, though, such as the park-lets and other seating in parking spaces on streets still open to vehicular traffic, will have to go. Snow and ice will make conditions unsafe; space-sucking concrete barriers would be required to keep diners separated from cars. It’s not an expense many are willing to take on, according to Downtown Boulder Partnership’s Chip.

Despite all the city’s efforts — information, grants, pending buy local and subsidized delivery campaigns; see more below — owners are worried about the coming winter, he said.

“No matter what the city does, the cold weather is going to limit people’s desire to eat outside many days,” said Chip. “We’re trying to figure out what the next six months will look like.

“We’re really just trying to get through to the spring.”

The city, DBP and the Chamber are working together to find places to relocate existing on-street dining: Sidewalks, alleys, adjacent parking spaces. Applications for tents or other structures open Oct. 12. The program will run through February. That’s because of codes dictating what constitutes a permanent structure, Yvette Bowden, Director of Community Vitality, said Tuesday. Council can reassess in February, and staff will keep working on regulatory issues.

Council also green-lit a Buy Local campaign and a seasonal subsidy of third-party delivery services. COVID relief funds will be used to support both programs.

There’s never been a more important time to support our local small businesses,” Bowden said. 

Subsidized delivery

Many third-party delivery companies — national operations like GrubHub or Postmates and Boulder-based Hungry Buffs, etc. — charge high fees for their services: Upwards of 15% of each order and sometimes as high as 40%. Other cities have attempted to cap the fees during the pandemic but have been met with pushback from the companies and, sometimes, restaurants.

Boulder went a different direction, launching a competitive bidding process to pick one or two vendors whose services will be subsidized by the city. The subsidy would be available Nov. 1 through Dec. 31, in order to utilize the CARES Act funds.

“If we are unable to find a successful vendor,” Bowden said, “we will find another way to aid restaurants.” 

Chip said “at least one if not a couple” companies responded to the Request for Proposals.

Buy Local

Still in the works is a campaign in which the city will issue gift cards to match spending at local retailers. Berthoud and Crested Butte have instituted something similar. 

That program will run through “some portion of the holiday season,” Bowden said Tuesday, but details are TBD. Chip said they would likely be settled by the end of the week. 

Business impact survey

The city is updating its survey of how local business operations have changed due to COVID-19. In April, 96% of businesses reported impacts, 75% said they had laid off staff, reduced pay or cut hours, and 100 businesses permanently closed.

Results will be shared in November. It’s possible things have worsened; sales tax collection has continued to be sluggish, and numerous businesses have closed since that time.

“The title of (staff’s) presentation says it all,” Bowden said Tuesday to council. “COVID lingers.”

Micro grants

Using COVID relief funds distributed by the state, Boulder issued $679,000 in micro grants to 201 small businesses (fewer than 100 employees). 

Those funds should be distributed over the next two weeks,” Bowden said.

34 businesses awarded $1,000 (17%)
76 businesses awarded $2,500 (38%)
91 businesses awarded $5,000 (45%)

16% were local nonprofits
41% were majority women-owned (84 businesses)
21% were majority PoC-owned (42 businesses)

16% in Boulder less than 5 years (33 businesses)
29% 5-9 years in Boulder (58 businesses)
22% 10-19 years in Boulder (44 businesses)
33% in Boulder 20+ years (66 businesses)

12% sole proprietor (25 businesses)
76% 2-19 employees (153 businesses)
11% 20-49 employees (21 businesses)
1% 50-99 employees (2 businesses)

— Shay Castle, boulderbeatnews@gmail.com, @shayshinecastle

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