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By Diana Diamond

Will winter outdoor restaurants work?

Uploaded: Nov 13, 2021

Will the restaurants with their outdoor eating sections survive during the winter? Will California Avenue, the city's second downtown, continue to have the street closed until spring to accommodate restaurants, while retailers continue to complain because they are losing business and some are closing?

Will we really want to dine outside during the winter months, which city officials are betting on?

Outdoor dining was popular this summer, with the seated area protected by partial tents to ward off the wind, hot sun and now the occasional rains. With twinkling lights, these restaurants became popular, and attracted residents, because we liked eating out -- outdoors. It was a help in avoiding covid. It was also, I suspect, frequented by those who had one or two hots left to go.

While the restaurants are doing reasonably well, retail store owners complain that their businesses are losing money. And that means city revenues will slump.

City Manager Ed Shikada and the council approved of the closed-to-traffic-outdoor-eating plan, but my guess is that it was because the city was making money from the restaurant sales. So why change a revenue enhancing concept?

Pumped up with three COVD-19 vaccines, including the third D-variant one, I am now comfortably eating indoors. The ambience differs from restaurant to restaurant; outside each dining area looked the same --the plastic overhead, a few bushes curbside that hid the view of the street. And now that it's colder and a bit drizzlier, I prefer a warmer place.

I noticed Sunday night that fewer people were sitting outdoors while inside tables were relatively full. I hope the city manager' and council's "betting" decision about closing Cal Ave to traffic this winter will not hurt the restaurants but I fear it will.

My other concern is how will retail survive in both the downtown business and Cal Ave areas? Council was told tax revenues from there two business areas were better than last year, which is great.

A couple of years ago, downtown was a thriving place, morning, noon and night. People were strolling through the streets. Now downtown has a lot of closed businesses and big empty buildings, and, to me, is no longer what it was. Even Restoration Hardware, one of the retail stores I loved to wander through, is moving to Stanford. Fewer business employees work (and lunch) downtown.

What plans does the city have in mind to attract more businesses? What is Plan B? Do they have specific goals? How long will it take?

Are there ways to lure more people downtown? A companion free dinner at a restaurant? A 10 percent once-a-month business district discount if you get a free card from the city?

And why, in the time of a dwindling business district, are city officials still planning to impose a business tax, which means businesses will just hike up the price of goods that we will all pay?