By Sara Paul
Ever wanted to dine on the double yellow line? Patrons in the Village of Warwick may soon be able to enjoy cocktails and grub smack dab in the middle of Main and Spring Streets and Railroad Ave.
On Mon., June 15, the Village Board of Trustees gave permission to Mayor Michael Newhard to request approval from the New York State Department of Transportation (NYS DOT) to close down Main St. four days a week, Thursday through Saturday from 4 to 11 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., as indoor dining has been temporarily shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic. Spring St. and Railroad Ave. are Village roads and do not require action from the State.
Shot in the Arm for Restaurants & Shops
With businesses suffering since the mid-March closures, many are looking forward to an opportunity to serve more customers.
Yesterdays restaurant owner John Christison is thrilled about the possibility and quite eager to get his tables out on the open road.
“This would be a beautiful thing and would help restaurateurs as well as merchants. People are generous at this time, and they want to spend money,” said Christison, who is grateful to his loyal customers who have been ordering take-out and leaving gratuities as high as $200.
With his dining room shut down since Mon., Mar. 16, the eve before one of his busiest days, St. Patrick’s Day, a choked-up Christison described the ensuing weeks.
“On Paddy’s Day, three bagpipers came here and played… and it was just things like that kept it going… We were operating with a skeleton crew, but I stay positive. The mind is like a parachute; it doesn’t work unless it’s open,” said Christison, fighting back tears.
If the street closure proposal is approved, the proprietor will place tables (about 15 to 18) six feet apart, as per CDC guidelines, with no parties larger than six people. All wait and kitchen staff will continue to wear masks, distribute plastic menus, offer several hand sanitizer stations and utilize a special cleaner for the tables.
“This can work! They are doing it in other towns. It’s a little inconvenience for traffic but a good trade off for vendors. Right now, this would be a tremendous help,” he said.
Village Board Focusing on Logistics
At the Village of Warwick Board Work Session prior to the meeting, the Mayor and Trustees discussed pros, cons, and concerns of the proposed street closures at length.
Mayor Michael Newhard advised that approval from NYS DOT a well as the NY State Liquor Authority (SLA) are necessary before the plan can move forward.
The Board of Trustees approved a motion to submit a proposed application for a “COVID-19 Recovery Temporary Use Permit” to the NYS DOT allowing the closure of a portion of Main St. (from Welling Pl. south to the light at West St.) for the purpose of permitting outdoor dining.
Additionally, the Board agreed that Mayor Newhard could accept proposal packets from interested restaurants to include in the application to the DOT.
If put in place, the street dining plan would indicate that West St. and Oakland Ave. remain open as detour routes. The Village also controls Railroad Ave. and Spring St. and may close portions of those as well. The Mayor wants to be able to accommodate all Village eateries and pointed out that those outside of the proposed street closure zones, such as Warwick Thai, Viviano’s, Coquito, and the Warwick Inn, have parking lots or other designated areas for outdoor dining.
“These men and women are struggling to make ends meet and this is their opportunity… We hope this can happen as we believe it will help our restaurateurs and give people a reason to come downtown,” Newhard said.
Board concerns included barrier placement and storage; possible overtime the Department of Public Works would require; detour signage; emergency vehicle access; insurance; and enforcement of social distancing.
Street Dining Presents Challenges
While there are many details and logistical hurdles to overcome, according to Village of Warwick Building Inspector Boris Rudzinski, one of the main issues is serving alcohol outside of a restaurant’s legal boundaries.
Owners are essentially filing an extension of their physical space, which is attached to the liquor license, an important document that outlines the lay out of an establishment’s physical space.
“It’s like having an open container on the street, and this is not New Orleans. These alterations must be recorded,” Rudzinski firmly stated.
The inspector, who has been distributing written information regarding SLA rules and restrictions during COVID-19, explained that currently there are two types of temporary alterations of business license to serve alcohol in unique situation: Type 1 applies to businesses that possess adjacent property such as a parking lot; and Type 2 applies to establishments that want to extend their outside patronage area, which could infringe on neighboring business.
The latest proposal for drinking and dining on a major road is a much more complicated issue as it involves the businesses, the Village and possibly the police to monitor alcohol consumption on the streets.
Rudzinski commented, “The restrictions are all about the alcohol. Of course, we want the businesses to be successful, and specific rules need to be followed. We just want this to be done in a safe manner.”
Warwick Valley Dispatch Reporter Katie Bisaro also contributed to this story.
A proposal has been submitted by the Village of Warwick to close Main St. for four days a week so that restaurants can provide larger spaces for outdoor dining during the current COVID-19 restrictions. Pictured is Yesterdays owner John Christison (right) & loyal patron Walter Dearing who are excited to dine on the yellow line.