A pandemic-era outdoor dining plan in Greenport will wrap up this month, despite a request from the Business Improvement District to continue the program through October.
Permits for the “parklets” outside many village businesses — boxed-in outdoor dining areas in the street — will expire on Sept. 24, the date originally set by the state Department of Transportation, according to village administrator Paul Pallas. “The BID has committed to doing everything they can to meet that date,” he said of the parklets’ removal.
“While the Board is acutely cognizant of the financial issues involved for the businesses, especially the restaurants, during this economic COVID-recovery period, additional factors concerning public health and safety outweigh others at this time,” Mr. Pallas wrote in an email to BID president Richard Vandenburgh.
Mr. Pallas, whose email noted that both the police and local fire department have echoed similar sentiments, told The Suffolk Times that a few parklets were hit by cars in the past year. He does not know if the Village Board plans to reinstate the initiative next summer.
Mr. Vandenburgh told The Suffolk Times the organization had requested to “trim” some of the parklets but keep others in place for another month.
“October can still be a beautiful time of year and some of the restaurants were really looking forward to continuing to have that outdoor dining availability,” he said, adding that some business owners and their patrons have expressed concern about rising COVID cases and the Delta variant.
A BID survey found the initiative was most popular among those in the food and beverage industry, which has suffered throughout the pandemic due to safety concerns and varying limitations on indoor dining.
In the survey, some called the parklets a “lifeline” during the pandemic and said they add “a certain atmosphere to the village,” according to Mr. Vandenburgh. He acknowledged that others took issue with how much parking the initiative took up. Parklets occupy 51 curbside parking spaces.
Bunnii Buglione, general manager of Ellen’s on Front, a restaurant in the village, called Greenport’s decision not to extend the parklets “a bummer.” Her restaurant is on the smaller side, and at full capacity, patrons sit very close together.
“It’s a different world and it’s a different culture now and people don’t want to be more or less than three feet away from another table,” she said. “Taking away the outdoor dining takes away about half of our seating. And there are a lot of people who still just aren’t comfortable eating inside yet, and then there are people who … just don’t want to eat inside anymore. It’s gorgeous out.”
She understands why some residents and business owners have parking concerns, but as a Jamesport resident and soon-to-be Greenport resident, she “would gladly walk the three blocks if it means that … the people we employ have a job.”
“If we’re being completely honest, we would have not made it through the pandemic if it weren’t for the parklets. It has been an absolute gift,” she said. Ms. Buglione hopes the parklets will return for the next season.
Mr. Vandenburgh added that although many restaurant owners are disappointed to lose additional seating, BID has accepted the village’s decision and hopes the initiative returns next year.
“Overall, [business owners are] more or less understanding as to the fact that this is something that’s been great [and that] we want to come back,” he said.