Issaquah closes Front Street to test outdoor dining
As King County entered Phase 2, there have been more initiatives to reinstate normalcy for residents and businesses alike. Issaquah recently piloted the closing of Front Street in their historic downtown area to vehicle traffic in order to provide local restaurants additional space for outdoor dining.
The Downtown Issaquah Association partnered with the Recovery Task Force, a group appointed by Issaquah Mayor Mary Lou Pauly to reduce the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, to create the Streatery Pilot.
The Streatery concept allows restaurants and other eateries to offer additional seating for customers outdoors. The City of Issaquah will close the opposite side of the street, the road itself, and the vehicle travel lanes for usage by businesses on a limited number of days.
The Streatery Pilot made its debut on June 26, with the closure of Front Street from Dogwood Street to Sunset Way from 2 p.m. on Friday until 10:30 p.m. on Saturday. All traffic was redirected through alternate routes. Although the pilot was scheduled for only two weeks, there is potential for the Streatery to be extended from late July through the end of September.
Since the Washington State Department of Health has mandated the use of masks in indoor public areas and in outdoor areas where proper social distancing is not possible, masks must be worn while waiting for a table, walking around, and entering or exiting an establishment. However, masks can be removed when customers are seated at a table.
Additionally, restaurants are taking extra precautions to ensure the safety of their employees and customers. Las Margaritas, a Mexican restaurant, has extra staff on hand to make sure everything is sanitized and clean.
Stan Phillips, the owner of Stan’s Bar-B-Q, has installed hand sanitizer units at his restaurant’s front and back doors and at the cash register. The restaurant staff is placing one paper menu per table and discarding the menu once the customers leave. They are taking care to clean everything and wash their hands.
“We have always taken pride in a clean restaurant and receive the highest marks from the health board,” Phillips said.
At 5:30 p.m. on a Friday evening, there was a sizable crowd of about 30 people enjoying an evening dining out. Many families and friends strolled up and down Front Street, while small groups sat down at tables outside the restaurants. Quite a few attendees had young children, but the majority were teens and middle-aged couples. Some pet-owners brought their dogs since pets are welcome at the event as long as they are leashed.
The turnout on Saturday, June 27, was not as high. The weather had turned colder and there was rain in the forecast. At 7:00 p.m., only about 15 to 20 individuals were present when the Sammamish Independent checked in.
According to the Downtown Issaquah Association, the restaurants that participated in the pilot included FINS Bistro, Domino’s, Japan Ginger, Subway, Chicago Pastrami, Yum-e Yogurt, H & H Saloon, Montalcino, Bukhara Bar and Grill, Krawbar, Las Margaritas, Stan’s Barb-B-Q, Macky’s Dim Sum and Downtown Issaquah Plaza’s Flying Pie Pizzeria, Capri Cellars, Fresh Juice Bar, and Khao San Thai Cuisine. Several non-restaurant services also joining in, including salons, spas and clothing stores.
However, a number of restaurants and other businesses remain closed.
“More restaurants should be open; they aren’t taking advantage of all the free publicity,” said Damion Williams, a patron who went for the dining experience on Saturday, June 27.
An employee at Las Margaritas said that business has improved by about 30 percent, though it is hard to say exactly how that might change in the future due to the condensed period of the pilot. He hopes the Streatery will continue into September for as long as the weather allows.
Phillips, the owner of Stan’s Barb-B-Q, shared similar sentiments, saying business has increased between 40 to 55 percent, and that he would love to be able to keep using outside seating.
However, he also had a few suggestions to improve the event.
“I would like live music placed in different locations, maybe do some drawings set up in different locations around the street for a lunch or dinner at each location,” he said.
All in all, the Streatery Pilot appeared to have successfully achieved its goals. A semblance of community and summertime has resurfaced, and ultimately, businesses seem to finally be benefiting after months of pain.