Hoping to save some of Stillwater’s summer tourism economy amid coronavirus restrictions, city officials next week will consider establishing outdoor “refreshment zones” on private patios, parking lots or even city streets.
Restaurants and bars in town could use the zones to seat their customers, said Mayor Ted Kozlowski.
“There’s no prohibition against takeout right now,” he said, and more outdoor seating might boost businesses laid low by the pandemic.
City Council members will take up the measure at their meeting Tuesday. They will consider refunding liquor license fees for the months covered by the stay-at-home order and allow restaurants and bars to extend service into private parking lots or patios.
A city report said Stillwater has the authority to allow a bar to serve alcohol on private lots or patios. But there are other issues, including safety, emergency routes in and out, insurance liability and fire lane access. And how long would the temporary extension of bars and restaurants last?
Plans are still coming together, but Kozlowski said he could see adding more picnic tables along the river on city park property.
“If we could get 100 picnic tables in Lowell Park, we could number them 1 to 100 and let people do takeout with a bottle of wine or a six pack of beer,” he said.
The end of some restrictions Monday will see the partial reopening of Stillwater’s popular Main Street, with retail establishments planning to open albeit with limits on the number of customers allowed inside.
Bars, restaurants, theaters, hair salons and other businesses where close contact is typical can’t open yet, according to rules put in place this week by Gov. Tim Walz. He said he expects to make an announcement Wednesday about those businesses, with the possibility they could reopen on June 1.
Downtown Stillwater restaurant and bar owners earlier this month asked for a series of temporary rules to help them keep their doors open, from an open-container rule that would allow drinking in public to creating outdoor service areas and waiving downtown parking fees.
The City Council didn’t support the open-container idea. But the Public Works Department since has installed more picnic tables and garbage and recycling containers in Lowell Park, the city’s main riverfront park space.
And city parking fees have been waived through June 1, a revenue source that typically brings in about $10,000 a month. The council will decide whether to waive fees for the summer.
Downtown business owner Kelli Kaufer opened Wednesday after consulting an attorney. Her shop, Smith and Trade Mercantile, qualifies for opening since it sells some essentials, but she said business hasn’t yet returned in any sense. She got a Small Business Administration grant and is waiting for support from the Paycheck Protection Program, but she’s had to furlough employees.
Nevertheless Kaufer, who opened her store last year, said she was happy at the reaction from customers this week. Her shop sells the creations of 45 local artisans who produce everything from leather goods to jewelry and paintings.
“A lot of people said it was good to come here because it was therapy; they felt it was a little bit of normalcy,” she said.
Kaufer came up with a way to encourage customers to spend money downtown, making a game that people can play by shopping. For every purchase of at least $25 at one of 42 businesses, a player can mark a spot on a bingo card; a finished card gets you entered into a drawing for gift cards worth $200 each.
Robin Anthony, executive director of the Greater Stillwater Chamber of Commerce, said she’s eager to see Main Street partly reopen on Monday.
“Some are more conservative than others, but for the most part they are chomping at the bit to reopen. And they can’t sustain being closed much longer,” she said.