Reopening California: Bringing restaurants, retailers outdoors, SF aims to keep small businesses in business

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Cities across the Bay Area are considering how to manage the changing workplace and the local economy.

On Tuesday, addressing both issues, San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced a program to eventually bring business outdoors.

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San Jose, Berkeley and other Bay Area cities recently announced similar approaches for the post-pandemic world.

Bringing restaurants and retailers outdoors is just one way the City of San Francisco is hoping to keep small businesses in business.

Outside Caffe Trieste, in the city's North Beach neighborhood, there is a glimpse into the future. Barriers signal one example of using parking spaces as an extension of the sidewalk.

"We rely on our customers, and if we don't have room for them, it's not right," Caffe Trieste President and CEO, Ida Zoubi told ABC7 News.

The idea is part of the city's new Shared Spaces Program.

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Mayor Breed said the move will give businesses more space to operate safely, once stay-at-home orders are lifted.

The plan is to eventually use parks, plaza, parts of streets, or even entire streets for service.

"This is a moment in our culture to change the way we think about society," Supervisor Aaron Peskin explained. "And I think it's a way for neighborhoods to recreate themselves, to become less dependent on automobile traffic. Reclaim a little bit of our city streets."

Supervisor Aaron Peskin said the move is essential for this next phase of neighborhood recovery.

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"The COVID-19 Economic Recovery Task Force developed the Shared Spaces Program, which will allow neighborhood businesses to share a portion of the public right-of-way, such as sidewalks, full or partial streets, or other nearby public spaces like parks and plazas for restaurant pick-up and other neighborhood retail activity, as allowed by San Francisco's Public Health Order," a press release by the Mayor's office read. "Once restaurant dining is allowed under the Health Order, the public right-of-way could be used for outdoor restaurant seating."

"Right now, many of those businesses are on the razor's edge," Supervisor Peskin said about businesses in his district. "Several of these businesses that are near and dear to our tight knit community will never reopen."

The Golden Gate Restaurant Association (GGRA) acknowledged this is not a one-size-fits-all solution, but it's a step in the right direction.

"We're not the federal government. We can't run a deficit," GGRA Executive Director, Laurie Thomas said. "If we open and we only see half of our normal customers, and we're losing money, these businesses will close."

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Thomas is also on the Economic Recovery Task Force. She explained they've had conversations about what it would take to help restaurants survive, since April.

"It's not so easy to do in a big city like San Francisco with multiple- Muni and different transit and corridors and all kinds of different things," Thomas said. "So the ability to come together as a city and to try to make this shared spaces work, certainly we will try to do the easiest stuff first."

She said there are many ways the program can work. "One of the things that I think is super smart that we do is we work with each supervisor's district," Thomas told ABC7 News. "And try to figure out what makes sense for each district."

Thomas owns two restaurants in San Francisco's Cow Hollow neighborhood. "We just did the math this weekend on what a six-foot social distancing would look like, and it cuts at least by 50-percent, the capacity."

She said without the push to move business outdoors, "It's going to really significantly impact the viability of doing business with that much less revenue coming in, for a sustained period of time."

RELATED: Reopening California: Berkeley proposes plan to turn outdoor spaces into restaurant dining areas

Instead, she explained, "Doing this is what we need to do in order to generate the jobs again, in order to generate the sales revenue."

Thomas said the community must decide how it's going to make the city a viable city going forward.

Business owner Teague Kernan said he's not convinced the program will solve problems presented by the pandemic, but said, it's something.

"So anything we can do right now to alleviate the drain of money, the debt that we're accruing, is helpful," he said.

He owns Belle Cora and Tupelo in North Beach. Kernan explained both restaurants and retailers have given up so much, and post-pandemic, it's up to everyone.

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"The people involved in these communities have to give. Maybe they have to give up their parking spot, or a metered spot," Kernan told ABC7 News. "The alternative is the neighborhood that you lived in is no longer there."

"If they're cut down 25-percent of a thousand square feet, they're going to have to expand into zones like this," Peskin said, pointing to the expanded sidewalk, parking space combination. "Or they're going to go bankrupt."

Local businesses or merchant associations can apply for a no-cost, expedited permit to share spaces for business purposes.

"The world as we knew it for many decades is totally different today," Supervisor Peskin said. "Right now, it's imperative for government and society is to get our small businesses back on their feet, and that means waving all permit fees. That means giving spaces that used to be for cars to people."

For the full release on the Shared Spaces Program, click here.
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