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Diners brave the elements during pandemic


Cities across the nation, including Ithaca, promoted outdoor dining as a safe and socially distanced way to operate during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Local Ithaca businesses suffered during the pandemic and had to find new ways to engage in business that was safe. Winter outdoor dining became normalized to gain safe and socially distanced interaction during the pandemic.

After the mandated lockdown, businesses suffered throughout March, April and May of 2020. During these months, restaurants lost more than $120 billion according to the National Restaurant Association.

Ithaca’s outdoor “streetery” begins

Before the pandemic, outdoor dining was already popular in Ithaca, but this summer brought a new twist to it. The City of Ithaca promoted its “Aurora Streetery” set up on part of North Aurora St. right off the Commons. From June to mid-November, participating restaurants on the streetery offered outdoor dining on sidewalks.

Ithaca Ale House’s social media post of their “Aurora Streetery”

Gary Ferguson, executive director of the Downtown Ithaca Alliance (DIA), said the outdoor dining was a success and he hopes that it will reopen in mid-to-late April. Ferguson agreed that customers feel safer dining outdoors, but the streetery dining closed temporarily due to the onset of cold weather.

“We love to see people enjoying themselves,” Ferguson said. “So long as people sit apart and seats are properly placed. It seemed to work really well. We really love the idea that the pedestrians could walk along the street.”

Collegetown Bagels and Ithaca Bakery move dining outdoors this winter

As some restaurants have closed their outdoor dining, some are finding new means to have comfortable, outdoor winter dining.

Gregar Brous, Owner of Collegetown Bagels (CTB) and Ithaca Bakery shops, opened new outdoor dining options this month for three of his five business locations.

All indoor dining rooms are closed at CTB and Ithaca Bakery locations until further notice, but Brous created outdoor dining for three of his stores: CTB on College Ave., CTB in East Hill Plaza and Ithaca Bakery on North Meadow St.

At the end of January, CTB’s first outdoor dining began with Collegetown’s outdoor bubbles. There are currently two bubbles and other outdoor seating arrangements set up at CTB in Collegetown.

In the first week of February, CTB in East Hill Plaza opened outdoor cabana seating which currently has three wooden cabanas that are three-sided with a top to shelter from the snow or rain. On Feb. 18, Ithaca Bakery opened two outdoor cabanas and it is planning to add more in their parking lot.

Wooden cabana on sidewalk of Ithaca Bakery on North Meadow St. (Ithaca Week/Sydney Keller)

Brous was inspired by what bigger cities like New York and Chicago were doing with their outdoor dining, and he decided to hop on this idea himself.

He said that he believes customers feel safer dining outdoors and that the new outdoor bubbles and cabanas are a way people can engage in more social interaction during the pandemic. The outdoor dining also provides a safe way to dine.

“We need to provide for the safest environment we can and then people will have to make their own decision if they’re still okay to be involved,” Brous said.

Brous adds, “People are desperate for the interaction, for the community nature of restaurants, just getting out.”

Grace O’Malley, a first-year student at Cornell University, said she prefers the outdoor bubble as a dining option.

“You’re only focused on the person you’re with, you’re not really worried about COVID,” O’Malley said. “You’re not worried about anything else except the dining experience.”

Both Ithaca Bakery and Collegetown Bagels hope to offer more comfortable ways to dine outdoors and to stay warm, so if you visit one of their locations with outdoor seating let them know how they’re doing or what they can improve.

Gregar Brous at his outdoor dining at Ithaca Bakery on North Meadow St. (Ithaca Week/Sydney Keller)
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