City Offers Street Space to Downtown Restaurants and Retailers

Soon, Corvallis restaurants may have more outdoor dining space thanks to a new program the City of Corvallis is rolling out – and retailers can also participate.  

Approved restaurants and retailers will temporarily expand into adjacent on-street parking spaces to provide more outdoor dining, seating, or shopping spaces. The temporary business right-of-way use runs from application approval until September 30, 2020. Businesses may apply for the permit free of charge through the Public Works Department website. Restaurants that serve alcohol also need to coordinate with the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.   

Joint Effort Made This Happen  

“This is huge news for our Downtown Corvallis businesses and restaurants!” according to Downtown Corvallis Association Executive Director Jennifer Moreland.  

“Many restaurants had to reduce the number of tables inside of their restaurants due to phase two guidelines. These new permits from the city allow restaurants the ability to make up for lost seats with the outdoor dining options.”   

Moreland regularly networks with other downtown associations across the state and was inspired by another community that closed one street to allow restaurants to expand their outdoor seating. She wanted to see whether Corvallis could do something and reached out to Jerry Sorte, the Corvallis-Benton County Economic Development Supervisor.  

Sorte and Moreland’s agencies teamed up and advocated for this use exception and worked with the City of Corvallis to make it happen.  

“Our businesses need flexibility so they can reopen and maintain safe physical distancing,” said Sorte. “This gives them the opportunity to expand their operations outdoors and take full advantage of the beautiful summer season in Corvallis.”   

“Also, during Crazy Days July 9-12, many retail businesses will take advantage of the extra shopping area to allow for physical distancing during the outdoor sidewalk sales,” Moreland added.  

As restaurants and other small businesses struggle to recover some of the money lost due to COVID-19, this program provides a needed boost.  

Castor and TacoVino Look Forward  

“It is essential for our business to stay open,” said TacoVino co-owner John Sobolewski.   

With Phase One and Two physical distancing guidelines, restaurants can only seat a limited number of patrons compared to their usual capacity.   

Sobolewski said TacoVino can serve around 50-60 percent of their capacity. Expanding seating into some of the parking spaces may allow them to fit as many as five or six more tables which dramatically improves their very slim margins.  

Evan Deffenbacher, one of Castor’s partners in the business, agrees. Castor currently isn’t able to offer patio seating. Inside, they can seat diners at just 12 out of their usual 30 tables while maintaining appropriate physical distancing. The ability to seat diners outside in some of the parking spaces would provide space for another six to eight tables.   

“It’s Christmas come early!” said Deffenbacher. “That’s another job we can bring back for somebody”  

Deffenbacher said they surveyed subscribers to Castor’s email list for input on reopening. Most expressed a preference for outdoor seating.   

“We are really really grateful for the opportunity to use that space,”said Deffenbacher. “It might double our potential revenue every day.”  

Both Sobolewski and Deffenbacher said they appreciated the work that Moreland, Sorte and the city did to make this a possibility. They also believe that the extra outdoor seating will add to the ambiance downtown.  

“I think it will create a bit of a European feel downtown and will also help people we are open,” said Sobolewski.  

Deffenbacher. said he thinks it will “bring visibility to restaurants and make Corvallis downtown feel a little more progressive, fun and hip.”  

Both recognized that it isn’t a complete solution for all restaurant owners. For example, the program doesn’t apply to State Highways (including 3rd and 4th Streets) and not all restaurants or retailers have access to eligible on-street parking spaces. Also, downtown will temporarily lose some of the on-street parking spots.   

Deffenbacher said Castor will reopen for dining and takeout by the second week in July.   

For more information about this program, visit the City of Corvallis website.  

By Samantha Sied