Just in time for summer, customers at some Hood River bars and restaurants are finding new sources of outdoor seating at a time when indoor seating is rare.
“Parklets,” temporary structures built in the street, are a new permitted use the City of Hood River approved this year in response to COVID restrictions and the needs of businesses with no outdoor areas, or without sufficient indoor seating under social-distancing rules.
The first parklet on the scene was Double Mountain Brewery on Fourth Street, built by Hale Construction.
With the wooden parklets, business owners are figuring out ways to add, or usually replace, seating areas. The parklets vary in scale and appearance; first step in the permit is to submit a sketch to the city, which provided leeway in design.
“Space planning is space planning,” said Lorraine Lyons, co-owner of 64 Oz taproom, who with her partner, Rod Steward, installed three sections of seating on Oak Street, and adorned them with vining plants on each end.
“A couple days of blood sweat and tears,” Steward joked.
The other parklets are at Andrew’s Skylight Pizza on Oak and pFriem Family Brewery and Stoked Roasters on Portway.
“People really like them, they feel safe and comfortable. They like being outside,” said Roy Slayton of 1805 Distillery on Portway Avenue. “We’re grateful the City of Hood River let us do it and I think it was very forward-thinking of them, otherwise, who knows what would happen.”
Paired with the parklets is the city’s permitting, in front of select businesses, the cordoning of select spaces for food order pickup.
“The use of public right of way for parklets and curbside pickup came from a shortlist of quick response efforts staff brainstormed to accommodate the anticipated increases in consumer and public activity levels as phased openings occur,” City Planning Director Dustin Nilsen said. “The effort intends to promote a coordinated and safe consumer and workplace experience and supports the local business community by increasing social distancing. The parklet and curbside pickup pilot fall under a series of COVID responses which include the use of streets and right of way to support local restaurant and retail establishments, signage, and guidance to customers and businesses as they prepare to open.
“To balance the loss of parking, we have been intentionally trying to have blocks of businesses coordinate and share the spaces and pickup. This is to mitigate the loss of parking and balance available spaces with the expansion opportunity,” Nilsen said. “There is no dedicated funding or set aside to serve as offsetting revenue.”
Lyons and Steward, along with friends Pascal and Sarah Fritz, of the upper valley, did most of the labor — “We couldn’t have done it without them” — it was Lyons’ daughter, Patricia Ashley (Patricia Ashley Interiors) who provided the design.
“People love it. They’re excited to have somewhere to hang out downtown that’s unique,” Lyons said, adding that their space is all-ages. Another business from across the river helping with parklets is Glenwood’s Glenwood Valley Timber, the source of the timber used to build 1805’s parklets.
Slayton and co-owner Chris Taylor built the parklets, with help from upper valley resident Finn Norris-Grey.
“We build them to last and we really hope the City of Hood River allows us to do it,” Slayton said. “We’d love to put roofs on them in case of rain. If we can minimize the number of people inside the longer the better, and I think there will always be people who want to sit outside. I think in the public, there are people who don’t want to go inside. It’s a shift in behavior.”
City permits require sidewalk passage preserved, along with the dimensions and placement of the parklets. The city also requires that tables will be serviced from stations inside of the premises. Bus stations, bus trays, food trays, setups, and utensils, or any other items to service tables may not be stored outdoors and “the permit holder must keep the area clean of garbage, food, trash, paper, cups, cans, or other litter associated with the operation of the outdoor seating area.”
Protocols for use vary, with some requiring sign-up, but the key is always to ask before sitting. The rule of thumb is similar to pre-COVID restaurant courtesy: Don’t sit at a table with dirty glasses or dishes. Wait for staff to clean it — these days, sanitize it, as they must do by law.
“First-come, first-served; it’s the only way we can do it,” Lyons said. “We have a lot of musical chairs going on. Most people are very inquisitive.”
If anyone does sit down unannounced, “we just go out and talk to them: The only problem is if they sit down, we have to sanitize the table again,” she said. “But it’s working out really well.”
(Slopewell Cidery on the Heights had installed a parklet and used it for two weekends, but got word from Oregon Department of Transportation that it had to remove the parklet, as 12th Street is a state highway. Kristyn Fix, the cidery's operations manager, said Slopeswell is considering other options for outdoor seating.)