‘Better than Nothing’: Outdoor Dining Effort Met With Disappointment by Owners

The excitement of outdoor dining in Chelsea Square’s wonderful ambiance flittered out for a lot of restaurant owners at about the third table they had to drag out to the sidewalk and street – knowing they had to also drag them back in every night.

Friday night, June 26, marked an exciting night in Chelsea Square and beyond as many restaurants opened for the first time in months – allowing some indoor dining and special outdoor sidewalk/street considerations for restaurants willing to participate.

Vladimir and Denisse Chino, of Mi Salvador Restaurant on Broadway, at their outdoor tables with City Solicitor Cheryl Fisher Watson and ISD Inspector Hector Prieta. Mi Salvador opened for the first time on June 22, and tried six outdoor tables last weekend.

At Mi Salvador, they had six colorful tables on the brick sidewalk, as the sun shone on Chelsea Square and they opened to diners for the first in weeks June 22. Last Friday, they decided to try the City’s outdoor program as well.

“It’s better than nothing,” said Vladimir Chino, owner.

However, that was about the best review from owners that the program got, despite loads of hard work and effort put into the program by the City, the License Commission and Chelsea Prospers.

One of the key problems was that the dining areas had to be broken down every night at closing, around 10 p.m. They were only able to go out at 5 p.m., so a gargantuan effort had to be made for about five or six tables.

“I think it’s good for what it is now,” said Whitney Huynh, general manager of Tijuana’s. “It is a lot of work bringing the tables in and out every day. I appreciate the City’s effort. For people who are younger, they are going to like this…People really love outdoor dining, and this is the first time we’ve done this. We do need more space and this does give us more space outdoors.”

Danny from Catracho’s on Broadway said he was extremely disappointed, and he said others near him were as well.

They didn’t like the wooden pallet barriers that were assigned and used – which were built on the fly by volunteers. He said they were dangerous and weren’t very aesthetic. He also said they were told they couldn’t put creative lighting – nothing with electricity – or heating lamps outside. And, he said he and another establishment had a plan to really decorate their spaces with plants and flowers. However, it wasn’t going to work if they had to take them inside every day.

“I don’t want to throw dirt on the City, but they could have done this a lot better,” he said. “I’m going to give this a try, but it’s not the lifeline I was hoping for. My customers are going to look at this, and then go and look what they’re doing in other cities – like East Boston – and they’re going to go to East Boston. I love the idea and I love their effort. I just don’t like how they did it. There are too many rules, too many things we can’t do, and other places have been doing this for weeks now. We’re actually behind.”

Both Danny and Huynh said if the City is going to do outdoor dining, it has to be permanent.

Downtown Coordinator Mimi Graney said the trouble was there was some hesitation from the City Council and the Traffic Commission to commit to permanent assemblies until restaurants committed to the program. Meanwhile, restaurants didn’t want to commit until the City committed to something more.

She said the program is in its infancy, and she hopes early issues can spur City boards to make more changes – leading to greater closures and more permanency such as has been done on Moody Street in Waltham, which is closed to all traffic except morning deliveries.

The Traffic and Parking Commission and City Council approved only just the evenings for the parklets,” she said. “When we were going before them the businesses were not sure they were interested and we were hearing only concerns about ‘losing’ parking spaces. The city had only ever allowed parklets for just a few hours on one day so this was going to be a big ask for them to approve reserving so many spaces all at once. I’ve fielded those complaints. My hope was by showing there was interest by both businesses and customers we could go back to the Commission to expand the program. The barriers from the roadway are significant but on the other side there are complaints that anything less would be less safe.” She did clarify that lights and heaters are allowed under the program, but businesses just need to detail how it would be set up and be safe from fire hazards.

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