You may not think you’d like to sit outside your favorite restaurant or bar in Riverside and sip a glass of rose in the middle of January, but the village board last week provided that opportunity.
At their meeting Nov. 5 – the first time since May 21 elected officials convened virtually instead of in person due to the recent spike in COVID-19 cases – trustees voted unanimously to extend temporary sidewalk and outdoor patio access for downtown establishments through April 30, 2021.
The action also waives a section of the village’s municipal code that prohibits dining tables and chairs from being placed outside in the public right-of-way and private property December through March.
“Everything helps right now,” said Ceasar Melidis, manager of La Barra Ristorante, 2 E. Burlington St. in downtown Riverside. “We’re making do with what we’re faced with right now.”
After a cold end to October, a stretch of unseasonably warm weather to open November has certainly helped in the short term, with diners taking advantage of the continued outdoor seating.
“It’s almost a day-by-day situation,” said Melidis, who scans weather forecasts daily to help him gauge potential traffic and make staffing decisions. “I think we’re going to be OK for the short term, but no one’s done this before.”
Back in May, when residents of Illinois successfully flattened the curve on the first wave of COVID-19 cases that surged in the first months of the pandemic, village trustees approved expanding the ability for local establishments to offer outdoor dining and drinking.
In addition to opening up more space on public sidewalks on Longcommon Road and East Burlington Street, it also allowed Mollie’s Public House to expand its outdoor patio on private property to the west and created space in the street parking area outside of The Chew Chew for additional tables.
Once The Chew Chew’s off-street outdoor dining patio, which can accommodate 40 people, opened west of their building later in the summer, tables were removed from the street.
The Chew Chew continues to offer outdoor dining on its patio, which has been largely enclosed by PVC panels and outfitted with portable heaters, whenever temperatures top 50 degrees.
La Barra Ristorante has also protected its outdoor seating area by enclosing it and adding heaters. Melidis said the restaurant has also purchased a blower heater that it intends to use when it gets colder.
With COVID-19 cases rising steadily since August, Gov. J.B. Pritzker at the end of October imposed new restrictions on indoor dining, which local establishments largely have honored, though some restaurants and bar owners have defied the ban.
Faced with carryout/curbside service only, Riverside officials wanted to at least provide a way to continue outdoor dining as an option.
Riverside President Ben Sells warned residents that the governor has no intention to resume indoor dining as long as regional COVID-19 positivity rates continue to spike.
“It’s very clear that there’s not going to be any easing of the restaurant restrictions until these case numbers turn around and start to come down,” Sells said. “So, if we want to support our local businesses, especially our local restaurants, there are two things we can do: We can take advantage of their carryout and outdoor dining capacity, but more importantly, we can do everything that we can to be strident in our efforts to reverse the trend of these COVID outbreaks.”