By Bob Uphues
The village of Brookfield will continue to close off the south half of the 3700 block of Grand Boulevard every weekend through at least the end of September, while some are calling for the closures – made to accommodate more outdoor dining during the ongoing pandemic – to continue through October.
Brookfield has been closing off the street from early Friday morning to early Monday morning every weekend since July 24, after most of the restaurants and bars, as well as many non-food businesses, in that stretch of Grand Boulevard voiced support for the idea.
While some restaurants and bars had already purchased tables and chairs in the event the village moved to close down the street, others took advantage of the village's offer to use picnic tables scrounged from Brookfield's parks.
The initiative has been nothing short of a success for the establishments on Grand Boulevard.
Nichole Mucha, owner of Sebastian's Ale and Whiskey House, 8900 Fairview Ave., emailed Village Trustee Brian Conroy on Aug. 24, stating that the additional seats the establishment has gained by closing off Grand Boulevard, saved the business.
"In May we had a meeting about if we could continue to keep our doors open as our bills continued to pile up," Mucha wrote. "We are extremely grateful for the village of Brookfield to acknowledge our struggle and offer to help by closing Grand Blvd. Without this assistance, we would still be fighting to keep our doors open."
The weekend street closure, Mucha said, allowed the restaurant/bar to expand its seating to 92 from the 20 it had set up on the sidewalks outside Sebastian's.
With customers still a bit leery about taking a table indoors – Conroy said he was told by a Sebastian's employee that people have agreed to wait a half hour or more for an outdoor table -- the additional outdoor seating has allowed Sebastian's to hire back its entire staff.
"There's just a great deal of fear that once that outdoor seating is no longer available … that it's going to be an extremely difficult time and a long winter for them to get through," said Conroy who pushed for closing down the street for outdoor dining back in mid-June and who urged extending the street closures through Oct. 31.
Mucha echoed Conroy's endorsement of the street closure extension in her email.
"By allowing an extension of outdoor dining, it will allow us to continue on our journey of catch-up with our past due bills and allow the residents more time to come out and support the local Brookfield businesses," Mucha wrote.
Meanwhile, said Conroy, Dan Velcich, co-owner of Burger Antics at 3740 Grand Blvd., wrote him to support an outdoor dining extension through the end of October.
Jennifer Odesky, co-owner of Pub 78 at 3733 Grand Blvd., also urged village officials to extend the weekend street closure for outdoor dining through Oct. 31. August is a slow month for restaurants and bars historically, Odesky said, while September and October are usually better.
"This is only going to help us increase our sales along with normal trends," said Odesky, who spoke during a discussion of the matter at the village board's Aug. 24 meeting.
Conroy suggested also allowing the outdoor dining along Grand Boulevard to continue until 11:30 p.m., an hour later than the current closing time for the outdoor area. However, with residences so close by and with restaurants and bars outside the downtown likely to seek the same accommodation, there wasn't support to extend the night hours.
As for extending outdoor dining through October, Village President Kit Ketchmark said he wasn't ready to do that just yet, though he didn't rule it out, either. Ketchmark has the ability to extend outdoor dining as long as he deems fit through the powers vested in him through the COVID-19 emergency declaration the village board has continued to extend since it was made in March.
"It's really worked out good, but still there has to be caution that we all exercise, whether how we go about our business or how we operate things here," Ketchmark said. "I think certainly through September, let's go for that, and if the weather's working out and the issues are fine, we'll go as long as we can."