This winter, Portland, Maine will allow outdoor dining into the first week of January, extending what's been a massive boon for local restaurants amid the coronavirus pandemic.
On Monday, the city council approved a rule change initiated earlier in the year to allow restaurants to place tables and chairs on city streets, in parking spaces, on sidewalks and outside on private property.
For Jorgen Persson, the news is very welcome. Outdoor tables have been a large draw to his business, Portland Beer Hub, which functions as a combination retail shop and restaurant in the Old Port.
“It’s been a lifesaver for me and my neighbors,” said Persson, referring to the other restaurants and bars around him.
“We’ve broke every record we’ve ever had two weekends in a row,” he added, explaining that the outdoor set-up was a very visual draw.
That's especially true for Massachusetts visitors who he's seen come up to Portland in larger numbers this fall after a COVID-19 quarantine restriction on the state was lifted.
However, while Persson, like other restaurant owners, will be allowed to keep his tables on the sidewalk up until Jan. 4, he will have to disassemble his tables on the street, which the city and state are requiring be cleared for snowplowing at the beginning of November.
“It’s a little scary, man. We’ve had such a good summer,” said Persson of the uncertainty inherent in changing his set-up.
However, he said he had plans to expand his sidewalk set-up into a format resembling park benches.
He also said he hoped to talk to the city and the state to find out if it would be possible to keep the street in use for dining.
“Being Swedish, I know what it’s like to be outside,” said Persson, adding that “even in January, in the middle of a snowstorm, outdoors is outdoors. There’s nothing that beats that.”
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Visitors to Portland on Wednesday agreed there would be demand from New Englanders for outdoor dining into the winter.
“It’s drizzly and they’re still coming out,” said one woman from Florida who did not wish to give her name.
“I think we’d be too cold,” said her husband, explaining that personally, the couple would prefer indoor dining if social distancing and mask wearing were observed.
One local equipment provider, Lynne Cousins, who co-owns One Stop Event Rentals in South Portland, told NECN that “we have not seen a large surge in restaurants wanting tents through the winter yet.”
She did say the company has “some tents out currently that have been extended to the end of the year.”
Cousins’ thinks the market for tents is such that “businesses will see how the next several months will go and then decided whether to extend beyond this time.”