EDMONDS — You’re welcome to dine on Main Street on the weekends this summer.
Main Street is closed to traffic between Third to Sixth avenues 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday, allowing for expanded seating for 17 restaurants and cafes.
The city’s Walkable Main Street initiative — which also includes outdoor shopping for retailers — not only makes it easier to maintain social distancing while strolling downtown, but also helps businesses get the sales they need to stay alive.
“We’d been talking during the shutdown about how we were going to reopen (businesses) and kickstart the (economic) recovery,” said Patrick Doherty, director of the city’s Economic Development and Community Services Department. “We thought, ‘Once we’re in Phase 2, what could we do to encourage people to come downtown and feel safer about it?’
“It introduces a safer area for pedestrian movement, but also recognizes that many establishments may feel that their customers are more comfortable engaging in whatever business in an outdoor area, whether that be dining, or sitting down for a coffee or snack, or looking at some portion of a retailer’s goods or wares.”
Edmonds is one of — if not the first — city in Snohomish County to shut down the streets of its commercial district to cars and trucks.
These initiatives are becoming more popular for U.S. cities in recent months because of the COVID-19 pandemic, including in Seattle, New York City and Chicago. Nearby, downtown Bothell’s Main Street and 101st Avenue NE, in the King County part of the city, also is closed off to vehicles to support businesses and social distancing requirements.
But Bothell’s initiative — scheduled to end Sept. 8 — is not limited to the weekends. Main Street, between 101st Avenue NE and 102nd Avenue NE, and 101st Avenue NE, between Main Street and Highway 522, are closed off 24/7.
In Edmonds, Doherty passed out posters last week about the initiative that serve as a directory of businesses participating in Walkable Main Street around downtown.
That includes outdoor seating at Kelnero, Revelations Yogurt, Taki Tiki, LeftCraft, Santa Fe Grill, Edmonds Bakery, Salt & Iron, Toshi’s Teriyaki, Rusty Pelican, Epulo, The Loft, Starbucks, The Mar-Ket, Thai Cottage, 407 Café, Chanterelle’s and Claire’s Pantry.
Kali Kelnero, co-owner of the Kelnero restaurant, said they’re only seating diners outdoors right now because it’s safer.
“It’s definitely helpful for us because we don’t yet feel comfortable with indoor seating,” she said. “In the summer, you get a few rainy days, but overall people are willing to sit down outside almost every day. And a lot of people prefer to sit down outside right now, much more than usual, for safety reasons.”
The restaurant’s deck can only fit two to three tables while maintaining the 6-foot distance requirement. With Walkable Main Street, the staff can set up an additional six to nine tables in parking spaces. It essentially doubles Kelnero’s seating capacity on the weekends.
“The first sunny Saturday, we easily doubled our sales,” Kelnero said. “All of a sudden we were in the position where we could recoup some of the losses we’ve had in the last four months. For us, that’s huge. It was pushing a record sales day for us.
“To get numbers like that, it makes you want to cry because it’s like, ‘Oh my god, we might actually survive this thing.’ ”
Shubert Ho, co-owner of Salt & Iron and The Mar-Ket, said his restaurants have approached normal revenue levels thanks to Walkable Main Street. Without the expanded seating outdoors, he said they make less than 50% of their pre-COVID revenues.
“It’s a great way for us to continue to operate in a pandemic economy safely,” Ho said. “We’ve been able to seat more people, and more people are willing to come eat in an outside environment just because of it.”
While most of the restaurants are all for the closing of Main Street, some of the retailers have told the city they don’t like that the initiative limits street parking. If their customers can’t park in front of their store, they worry they’ll lose those sales.
Ho and Kelnero said they recognize that Walkable Main Street hurts some businesses. But they point out that the Edmonds initiative has more pros than cons when it comes to helping the economy in the long term. They asked retailers to give it some time.
“By closing the streets, we might be taking away some parking, but we also aren’t getting the same tourism we have historically,” Ho said. “Maybe with a little trial and error over the next few months, we’ll be able to see the benefits of it as a whole.”
It’s OK if you don’t feel comfortable dining out the first time you visit downtown, Doherty said. As more and more businesses adapt to reopening in Phase 2, he said, the hope is you’ll feel safe enough to patronize your favorite restaurant or cafe again.
“We’ve had a lot of people say that they’re not interested in going downtown because it’s too crowded on the sidewalks — it doesn’t allow enough room for social distancing,” he said. “But when they can walk out into a 30- or 40-foot wide street, it’s a different story.”
Doherty said Walkable Main Street, which launched June 20, will continue on Saturdays and Sundays for the foreseeable future.
The traffic circle around the fountain downtown continues to be open to cars. Vehicles are still allowed to make U-turns there.
Find a map of Main Street closures and parking availability at www.edmondswa.gov.
Sara Bruestle: 425-339-3046; email@example.com; @sarabruestle.