A handful of parking stalls along Wall Street and Minnesota Avenue were closed to cars and opened to restaurant seating on Friday.
Early Friday morning, city of Bend employees installed large , water-filled, plastic barriers to block off several parking spaces outside of 900 Wall Restaurant and Bar. By midafternoon, white tents had popped up in front of the restaurant, and its neighbor, Joolz.
For Juli Hamdan, the owner of Joolz, being able to set up more tables outside will make a world of difference. The plan is to start table service outdoors Saturday.
“We’re at a third capacity right now,” Hamdan said. “Even giving us three more tables helps us immensely. And I think people are feeling more comfortable eating outside.”
This is one of the first major closures through a new city program to help restaurants and retail businesses find creative ways to use sidewalk, parking lot and street space to promote social distancing.
The creation of the program came after the chef and owners of 900 Wall and City Council candidate Anthony Broadman wrote to the city asking the council to consider closing streets and sidewalks for businesses.
“It’s exciting to see this to get off the ground, and I hope it will continue,” said Ben Hemson, the city’s business advocate.
So far, about 15 parking spaces have been blocked off for use by businesses in the area. Tin Pan Alley closed off access to vehicles about a week ago, Hemson said.
A few other applications for closures downtown are currently being reviewed, Hemson said, including Brooks Alley and the parking spots in front of Deschutes Brewery and White Water Taphouse.
A proposal from 900 Wall to close Minnesota Avenue and make it a one-lane, one-way street for more outdoor seating and retail space did not go through because two-thirds of businesses on the block could not agree to it, Hemson said.
Hemson said as more closures get approved and more visible, he anticipates more businesses — in and out of downtown — to become interested in the program.
“We want to be as flexible as possible to meet what businesses are trying to do,” Hemson said.