Maria’s Bookshop created a garden, Carver’s calls its Main Avenue tables “The Front Porch,” El Moro is offering outdoor seating and has only started to enhance its bump-out.
Across downtown Durango, restaurants and the odd shop or two have begun designing and creating their own outdoor spaces in the 10-foot street intrusion allowed them under the city’s Bump-Outs for Business program.
The program has proved generally popular with small-business owners with a few exceptions among merchants who worry about parking, Durango’s perennial downtown problem.
“I love the whole idea of doing this all up and down Main. We were eager to participate. When we thought about it, we weren’t sure putting merchandise out would work, so we thought about what might work, and this is what we came up with – a place where people can relax,” said Maria’s co-owner Evan Schertz.
The garden is the silver lining in COVID-19 restrictions that has Maria’s Bookshop limiting the number of customers into the bookshop to six at any one time.
“It’s a nice place to wait if we’re busy, and it turned out better than I had hoped for,” he said. “It’s kind of turned into a never-ending project. I still have plans to add some more plants, some chairs. I’m going to fiddle with it all summer.”
David Woodruff, general manager of El Moro Spirits and Tavern, said beyond being able to accommodate increased requests for outdoor tables during the COVID-19 pandemic, the bump-out, four-table patio is proving a summertime draw. The restaurant, beyond two small window-side tables, has never been able to offer outdoor seating.
“It’s especially popular with the awning so the sun isn’t beating down on you, and people do feel more comfortable eating outside, where there’s virtually no chance of transmission of the virus,” Woodruff said. “People ask for outdoor seating, and I love telling them, yes. I’m in the ‘yes’ business, not the ‘no’ business.”
The four tables El Moro added on Main have increased capacity 40% at a time when space is at a premium with COVID-19 health restrictions limiting the dining room to 50% of capacity.
“I have a whole other section I can garner revenue from, and it adds to the curb appeal. It’s really a big benefit for us,” Woodruff said.
Ideally, Woodruff would like to see the COVID-19 experiment with bump-outs become a feature Durango can bring back for warm weather dining in future years. However, he thinks that will happen only when the bump-outs can be shown to have benefits for retail and personal services businesses in addition to restaurants.
With Durango’s need for snow removal, Woodruff said the bump-outs wouldn’t be a feasible as a year-round configuration.
Holly Lee, co-owner of Affordable Framing on Main, said the bump-out program is working better for her after a bicycle rack she did not want was removed from the parking spaces in front of her shop, but she’d still prefer to see parking spaces take priority over business expansion into the street.
“Parking has always been a problem in Durango, so why would you want to fill up parking spaces?” she asked.
The bump-out program has taken away an estimated 60 parking spaces on Main Avenue.
The city has about 1,000 metered spaces downtown and 350 permit parking spaces on off-street parking lots on East Second Avenue and at the Transit Center.
As for Maria’s garden, Lee said she is not a fan.
“We want all our restaurants to survive, but I’m not sure what purpose the garden serves other than taking up three parking spaces,” she said.
Assistant City Manager Kevin Hall said the city is likely to keep the reconfigured striping on Main Avenue at least until next spring after an evaluation of how well it handles traffic.
“If we find that it’s working, we will very likely have a very similar configuration next year. If we find it has problems or congestion, we’ll look at alternatives,” he said.
So far, Hall said the city has largely received positive feedback to changes on Main.
The center, left-turn lane has drawn praise as has providing more space on sidewalks for pedestrians, he said.
The city looked at issues with deliveries, parking and emergency access before beginning the bump-outs and the reconfiguration of Main, and so far, he said, the city has not received negative feedback about the changes.
“I’ve been with the city 19 years, and there’s been multiple initiatives to try to modify how Main Avenue works, with the pedestrians, with traffic. And I think this gives us an opportunity to kind of revisit some of those things,” Hall said. “There’s no specific course of action being planned right now at all, other than to get us through the summer, providing extra space for some of those businesses. And we’ll re-evaluate, to see whether we go long term with any of this.”
Jim Carver, who has five tables on his bump-out placed on a platform of panels to eliminate the uneven crown on the road, said the experiment is successful for the brewpub, and he may add two more additional tables before he’s done with his bump-out.
“You go up and down Main Avenue, and it really has created a fun atmosphere,” he said. “The other day I walked out and there were 15 kids enjoying their ice cream in front of Cream Bean Berry.”
Carver, like most businesses using bump-outs, is still working on his design, with plans to better secure shading in addition to adding tables.
He offered praise to the city in bringing the program from drawing board to fruition quickly. The city also streamlined the process of getting liquor licenses amended to allow alcohol service at bump-out tables. Carver said the swift work by the city has provided timely relief for businesses constrained under COVID-19 restrictions.
“When we take these down in the fall, I think Main is going to look so asphalty, he said.
Matt Laningham, manager of Switchback taco bar, can seat 25 people at his three picnic tables and two window-side tables made possible by his bump-out, and like other restaurateurs, he said that provides a real benefit in dealing with dining room limitations.
Beyond his personal business interest, Laningham said, he thinks the downtown experience would be enhanced if the community ever could come together to agree to close at least a portion of Main Avenue in downtown to private cars.
“I’d like to see Main limited to trolleys, horse-drawn carriages and bicycles,” he said. “You could plant more trees, put in kids’ playgrounds. You’d eliminate a hazard with the cars. I think it would really enhance the atmosphere downtown.”