By: Jonathan Shead | Farmington Press | Published June 9, 2020
FARMINGTON — As restaurants and retailers in Farmington begin reopening their doors to customers for the first time in more than two months, another round of help is on the way from the city’s Downtown Development Authority and other city officials.
In a unanimous June 1 vote, Farmington City Council members approved easing certain zoning restrictions within the city to allow the DDA, through an application process, to work with restaurants and retailers to establish extended outdoor seating and sidewalk sales.
Previous to this measure, the DDA had supported its downtown business members through a promotional social media campaign, a Patronicity campaign that had garnered $3,390 of its $5,000 goal as of June 5; by providing reopening kits that include personal protection equipment, signage and navigational demarcation to assist with social distancing; and by offering paid time with an attorney to answer any legal questions.
The DDA also plans, where possible, to help alleviate any costs incurred with establishing barriers and providing temporary furnishing for outdoor operations.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced during a June 1 press conference that she was moving Michigan into Phase 4 of the MI Safe Start Plan, rescinding her stay-at-home executive order and allowing retailers and restaurants — among others — to reopen at 50% capacity on June 4 and June 8, respectively. The move to Phase 4 also allows groups of 100 or fewer people to gather in outdoor spaces while practicing safe social distancing.
“If you choose to go to a restaurant or outdoor fitness class, be smart,” Whitmer said at the conference.
While DDA Director Kate Knight said the idea for outdoor sales received resounding approval — 95% — from downtown merchants, she doesn’t expect any of them, nor the city, to have outdoor seating and/or sidewalk sales established right away.
“Everyone is busy just trying to reopen. (The governor’s announcement) is a little earlier than they anticipated, so they are still trying to call back staff and order inventory,” Knight said. “We anticipate we’ll have the majority buy in to participate, if not in this first phase, then as they’re able to and have the capacity to consider it. We know they’re extremely distracted right now.”
Many downtown merchants are taking a “high level of caution and care” while preparing to reopen with capacity and safety regulations in mind, she added.
As soon as the DDA is ready for applications and to help establish additional outdoor seating, Farmington Brewing Co. owner Jason Schlaff said he’s ready to hop on board. He believes the brewery is “capable of being a spearhead” for an expanded outdoor seating area for other businesses.
“We’re going to happily augment our capacity as long as it doesn’t jeopardize safety, both in safe service of beverages and general safety,” Schlaff said, adding that the brewery’s front patio will be open June 8 when they reopen at 4 p.m.
Vines Flower & Garden Shop owner Michele Hinds is eager to increase her foot traffic again, as well. Hinds has placed a canopy at the back of her shop so customers can shop outdoors, but she said it’s still “hit and miss these days.”
“I think the idea is wonderful,” she said of expanding her outdoor sales. “With all our events canceled in our business, it’s nice to at least have some foot traffic generating and all that starting to come back.”
Jacob Khalil, the co-owner of MiMosa, said that unlike some other businesses, he’s not in a rush to reopen and expand his outdoor sales as quickly.
“We’re not exactly in a rush, because we need to rehire our staff, and that’s taking time. We’re not rushing into anything,” he said. “We want to open with ease, and we want to make sure we’re following all the rules without getting into any legal issues.”
Khalil said, however, that when MiMosa decides to expand its outdoor seating, he believes it’ll help take some of the weight off the current 50% capacity limit indoors.
Knight said residents will likely see outdoor seating begin to pop up in phases throughout the summer.
“The public will gain more comfort, as will our restaurants and bars, and those who are organized and ready to move forward, we’ll work with them first,” she said. “As we’re reopening businesses … we just want to make sure we’re walking right alongside them.”
The approved resolution currently specifies five outlined areas throughout downtown where outdoor sales expansion seems possible. Restaurants and retailers are not restricted to these five areas only, though any request for expansion must be in direct proximity to the existing applicant. The resolution’s expiration date is Oct. 31.
“We are prepared to carry this forward as long as we need to, to help our downtown businesses,” Knight said in reference to the expiration date. “If we need to start talking about tents and heaters, we’ll have that conversation. Our plan is to walk alongside them and lift them up to support them as a downtown community. Whatever it takes, we’ll do it.”
For more information on the approved resolution, visit farmgov.com.