Extending pilot program supports small businesses while permanent guidelines are finalized
SEATTLE — Councilmember Dan Strauss (District 6 – Northwest Seattle), Chair of the City’s Land Use and Neighborhoods Committee, introduced legislation co-sponsored with Council President González on Monday to extend the cafe streets pilot program another year and create a path to permanency. This program gives Seattle businesses the tools to weather the economic downturn brought on by the pandemic, and enables restaurants and other retail storefronts to utilize streets outside of their businesses for outdoor dining or displays.
After hearing from many small businesses about the success of the city’s “Cafe Streets” program, Strauss intends to create a permanent program for businesses to continue using outdoor space, creating vibrancy in neighborhoods and business districts. In the interim, Strauss has introduced, and González co-sponsored, legislation to extend the city’s existing Cafe Streets program through May 31, 2022. The permit program, which is a free resource, has allowed businesses flexibility during the pandemic to utilize more outdoor space, allowing for social distancing and keeping customers safe while dining and shopping during the pandemic.
“I am excited to announce my legislation creating a pathway to keeping sidewalk cafes and café streets as permanent features in our city. This bill extends the free café, display, and vending permits through May 31, 2022 and sets the steps to make this critical program permanent. Business owners have told me these permits saved their businesses by giving them the flexibility to use their entrepreneurial drive to stay open during changing public health regulations. Businesses who pivoted their model to using these permits aren’t as impacted by changing public health guidelines,” Strauss said.
“This pathway to permanency gives businesses the certainty they need to invest in their outdoor spaces and the agility to remain open during changing public health guidelines. I want every neighborhood to have streets like Ballard Avenue in my district – bustling with outdoor dining and retail options. Neighborhoods who don’t have a dedicated street also thrive when business owners get to use their creativity to use public space to stay open. This is how we create a more vibrant city,” Strauss said.
“Small businesses are the lifeblood of our neighborhood commercial districts. During the COVID-19 pandemic, cafe streets have become critical for both the local economy and for making our communities feel active, inclusive and vibrant. Throughout the pandemic the City has responded quickly to the needs of small businesses and their customers by creating policies and programs like small business grants, free cafe street permits and land use amendments that allow microbusinesses to operate from home. With this legislation, we’re continuing to ensure that Seattle’s vibrant business districts can remain whole as our economy and community continue to recover,” said Council President M. Lorena González (Pos. 9 – Citywide), co-sponsor of the legislation.
Strauss also recognized that creating a pathway to permanent regulations is an important signal to businesses who have heavily invested in creating outdoor spaces, especially as spring and summer weather approaches.
“Businesses need certainty at a time when there is potential for King County to roll back its pandemic phase amidst a fourth wave of infections. This interim step between the pilot program and permanent regulations gives businesses the ability to navigate the unpredictability of this pandemic,” Strauss said.
The Cafe Streets legislation is expected to be heard in Strauss’s Land Use and Neighborhoods Committee on Wednesday May 12th, 2021.
The extension of the Cafe Streets program builds on Council’s support of small businesses during the pandemic. This includes the Bringing Business Home ordinance, which allows microbusinesses to operate in their homes; grants for small businesses through the Small Business Stabilization Fund; and direct financial support for workers in the restaurant, bar and hospitality industries.