Patio season may be coming to an end, but downtown Salmon Arm businesses assure they will return next spring.
Hanoi 36 was the first of two downtown businesses to set up a sidewalk patio for the summer of 2020. And owner Michael Vu will be the last to remove the on-street seating option, located along the curb in front of the restaurant at 141 Hudson Ave.
While the patio provides additional seating – a benefit when provincial restrictions around COVID-19 were eased to allow people to eat out once more – more important, said Vu, is that it also serves as an attraction for his and neighbouring downtown businesses.
“It’s sort of like a meeting point now – this part of Hudson was never really busy until we got the patio where we actually see a lot more foot traffic and stuff like that,” said Vu, who credits the city for putting in place a bylaw that gives downtown business owners the option to set up a patio out front.
“I think the city had a great plan in place six or seven years ago,” said Vu. “However, no one acted on it. When I got here, I felt that’s what we were missing because we have a beautiful downtown and, you know, there’s nothing better than being able to dine out on the street which is something that a lot of the bigger cities have and we don’t.”
Vu opened Hanoi 36 in August 2019, and applied this spring to add the patio. The city, in response, not only approved the application but, in the wake of COVID-19, also chose to waive permit and usage fees totalling $450. Vu was still required to pay a $500 refundable damage deposit as well as have third-party liability insurance.
At its Monday, Sept. 28 meeting, Salmon Arm council was supportive of waiving the patio permit fees once more next spring. Mayor Alan Harrison said staff was asked to come back with a brief report in February on the matter. Furthermore, council was supportive of a policy directive from the B.C. Liquor & Cannabis Regulation Branch enabling local governments to waive their review of liquor licensing with respect to sidewalk/street patios.
“Council talked about it… and we felt strongly that Hanoi 36 and the (Shuswap) Pie Company would not need to reapply next spring – we want to continue to encourage it,” said Harrison.
The mayor said he received no complaints regarding the loss of parking spaces resulting from downtown patios, but did received lots of kudos from people in the community about the kind of vibe they created.
The city’s Sidewalk Cafe Policy allows the patios to be in place until Oct. 31. The Shuswap Pie Company’s is already packed away for the fall, but owner Tovah Shantz said it will return in May, as permitted by the policy. With COVID-19, the patio offered the only seating the busy restaurant could safely offer patrons.
“This particular summer it was very beneficial being as we didn’t have anyone sitting inside – that was all we had,” said Shantz.
While there were a few complaints when the patio became busy, Shantz said that overall it worked well for patrons, and was supported by neighbouring businesses.
Looking ahead, Shantz looks forward to being in a position where she can have a patio attendant and, if COVID allows, more patio seating (in addition to once again being able to seat customers inside). She also said she’d be interested in maybe seeing if the city has an appetite to extend the patio removal date beyond Oct. 31.
Vu said he’ll be taking his patio down on Oct. 25, and will roll it out again in May. Asked what improvements he’s made, Vu is focused on adding lighting for evening dining.
“A lot of folks still want to sit outside during the evening,” said Vu. “We’re thinking of getting more lights for it. Right now I don’t have a power source so I’m using solar-powered lights. It’s very nice.”
Asked if any other downtown businesses have expressed interest in the city’s patio bylaw, Harrison said a number are thinking about it, but “we’ll see what next year brings.”
“It’s so uncertain, because there’s a bit of an investment by business,” said Harrison. “But we and I think restaurants and cafés especially see it as a way to expand their seating when their indoor seating has been eliminated.”