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Tuesday, September 22, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

City relaxes restrictions in outdoor dining, but few apply

UPDATED: Fri., Aug. 7, 2020

Courtney Jones, bar manager at Hi Neighbor Tavern poses for a photo on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020, in Spokane, Wash. The city of Spokane is reducing waiting tim for restaurants and retailers looking to expand onto sidewalks amid COVID-19 restrictions.  (Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Courtney Jones, bar manager at Hi Neighbor Tavern poses for a photo on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020, in Spokane, Wash. The city of Spokane is reducing waiting tim for restaurants and retailers looking to expand onto sidewalks amid COVID-19 restrictions. (Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

It just became a little bit easier to get a table at Perry Street Brewing.

With all of Washington state on a pandemic-induced pause, the city of Spokane is further speeding up the permitting process for restaurants and retailers looking to sprawl out onto sidewalks and alleyways so customers can social distance.

The city announced Tuesday that it will grant provisional permits to certain businesses applying for permission to set up tables or merchandise on an adjacent sidewalk.

It’s a doubling down of efforts to shed regulations on businesses looking to expand into the relative safety of the outdoors, as COVID-19 continues to limit their ability to welcome customers inside.

Perry Street Brewing in the Perry District, and the Hi Neighbor Tavern on North Monroe Street, have been able to expand their outdoor seating.

In May, the Spokane City Council tweaked city regulations to shorten the waiting period between application for a sidewalk cafe permit and the final approval. Later that month, Mayor Nadine Woodward signed an executive order creating the Restaurant and Retail Program that allows a cluster of restaurants or retailers to apply for a full street closure, though none have applied as of yet.

The city announced Wednesday that it would now give out provisional permits to businesses looking to expand onto a sidewalk or parking lot during the 10-day wait before final approval, a period that exists to allow neighbors to express any concerns to the city.

The move is a nod to the challenges many businesses face while Spokane County sits in Phase 2, which limits restaurants to 50% capacity with groups no larger than five. In order to sit inside, a party must all be members of the same household.

Retailers are limited to 30% of normal capacity under Phase 2.

Only two new restaurants have applied for a sidewalk cafe since the permitting changes were enacted in May, Perry Street Brewing and the Hi Neighbor Tavern on North Monroe Street.

Councilwoman Lori Kinnear, who spearheaded the council’s efforts to simplify the application process, said some restaurants and retailers simply don’t have access to an appropriately sized sidewalk. Others may have chosen not to expand outside because it would require hiring additional staff.

“I think having the opportunity for restaurants to use that is important,” Kinnear said. “If they chose not to, it’s their choice, obviously.”

Hi Neighbor was approved for outdoor seating on Wednesday and will set tables across its three-window facade. Inside, it normally has a capacity of 80 people, but has been cut to 40 due to restrictions under Phase 2.

“It’s been a little bit up and down, but for the most part for us, we’ve done really great,” said Courtney Jones, the bar manager. “We have a lot of loyal customers.”

Still, the extra seating will help the tavern welcome even more thirsty patrons, who have filed in as sports like Major League Baseball resume play. Though ballparks are closed to fans, the local watering hole will pour domestic beer and serve up hot dogs during a special event on Saturday.

Perry Street Brewing already offered outdoor seating on its patio, but has now been approved to add seven tables to the sidewalk on 11th Avenue, according to Ben Lukes, the brewery and restaurant’s owner.

Perry Street Brewing hopes to have the sidewalk tables available through October – and that the city keeps the program alive next year.

With COVID-19 still spreading through the community faster than public health officials can trace the source of infections, it’s unclear exactly when Spokane County will move into Phase 3.

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