Edmonds split on how to continue with pandemic 'streeteries'

As the Omicron variant has people re-thinking pandemic routines, the Edmonds City Council is preparing to determine how businesses in downtown are handled moving forward.

"Streeteries," or outdoor seating that sits on parking/sidewalks, became the rage in the early months of the pandemic, but now the community is taking sides on whether they should continue into 2022.

On one side of the debate, you have restaurants saying staff is buoyed by the business brought in by "streeteries", while other business owners say they're taking advantage of pandemic precautions, exhausting parking and hurting non-restaurant businesses in the process.

"We don’t want our government to pick the winners and losers when it comes to commerce," said Janelle Cass, the owner of Ohana Hyperbarics.

Cass said her elderly customers are forced to walk greater distances to get to her business. Meanwhile, on Monday night, several downtown "streeteries" were vacant as cold weather moved in.

Over at Salish Sea Brewing Company, the owner said they’re driving people into downtown businesses. Late Monday night, a large group of Jeff Barnett's family, friends and associates had showed up to eat ahead of Tuesday night's big decision.

"This place has also accounted for the employment for 25 to 30 people," said Jeff Barnett, owner of Salish Sea Brewing Company. "This would risk some of their employment and a lot of their income."

Erica Barnett took it one step further, saying safety is a major concern for their patrons.

"With the new variants, I know a lot of families want to meet with friends, but since they’re not in the same households, they don’t want to get together. The outdoors allows you to expand your social circle. You can eat outdoors. These eateries provide that," she said. 

RELATED: Small bars and restaurants to require proof of vaccination in King Co. on Monday

A handful of meetings at the city level have shown a divide in the community. A public forum will take place during Tuesday night’s city council meeting – and people on both sides of the debate expect it to get contentious.

It’s an awkward situation, as local business owners have been pitted against one another.

"Whether it be a restaurant or a retail store we see these people all the time, these are our friends," said Barnett. "We want what’s best for them too. But we do believe we bring a lot of people to town."

"I want the restaurants to succeed, but it doesn’t seem equitable," said Matt Richardson, another local business owner who said streeteries can’t be a permanent solution.

As Richardson explained, ADA compliance issues are top of mind for him – he also questioned how safe some of the setups are.

How the council votes remains to be seen, but late Monday afternoon it seemed like restaurants got a boost. Edmonds' mayor came out in favor of streeteries after more than 4,000 surveys were tallied.

"I believe the best way to support the economic vitality of our entire downtown is to continue streeteries during the pandemic," said Mayor Mike Nelson. "The reason why I believe this is because we see from new survey results that a majority of the public will likely patronize Downtown restaurants less if the streeteries are removed."

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