As the weather warms, restaurants in The District will start to open outdoor dining areas. Coinciding with some of the recent balmy weather, the Columbia City Council on Monday introduced an ordinance that would permit the sale of alcoholic beverages on sidewalks in front of restaurants and cafes.
Carrie Gartner, director of the Columbia Special Business District, said the ordinance would boost business and foster the type of outdoor atmosphere that makes the downtown a fun place to be.
“We want to have a really lively and active sidewalk culture, and sidewalk cafes make it that way,” Gartner said.
The ordinance would require sidewalk cafes to have some sort of barrier or fence to separate patrons from pedestrians. These sorts of cafe areas would differ from private, outdoor dining areas that serve as extensions of restaurants but require no public sidewalk space, such as those at Shakespeare’s Pizza, Boone Tavern, Shiloh Bar & Grill and Flat Branch Pub and Brewery.
Barriers around sidewalk cafes would help prevent people from carrying alcoholic beverages down sidewalks in violation of the city’s open container ordinance.
Kathy Fluesmeier, owner of Village Wine and Cheese at 929 E. Broadway, likes the ordinance. She and her husband bought the business three years ago and sold wine outside, just as the previous owners had. A citizen reported the practice to the city, however, and Fluesmeier said she has been losing business ever since she stopped.
Emmie Carter, general manager of Ninth Street Deli, 28 N. Ninth St., said it would be easier if the ordinance did not require fencing because there is limited space on the sidewalk in front of her business. The fences may crowd the streets, but crowds do attract people, Carter said.
A committee, including the police chief, the director of Parks and Recreation, representatives of the Special Business District and the city manager’s office, has been meeting since April to review the ordinance and to address concerns.
Kurt Mirtsching, manager of Shakespeare’s and a member of the downtown association, said a lot of thought has gone into the ordinance. Shakespeare’s is interested in adding tables and chairs in front of its restaurant.
“I think we can achieve the desired results of adults enjoying beverages in a comfortable environment and not have debauchery and decadence in the streets,” Mirtsching said. “It’s a really positive thing that would improve Columbia, if it is controlled.”
The ordinance is subject to final approval from the City Council, which is scheduled to vote on the matter March 21. The ordinance includes other restrictions, such as permitting alcohol sales only with food between 11 a.m. and 10 p.m.
Fluesmeier said sidewalk dining is commonplace in Europe and complements a city’s atmosphere.
“A lot of communities do have sidewalk cafes,” she said. “It’s the only way to go in Europe.”
Mirtsching said the ordinance has the support of much of the City Council and the business community.