PORT TOWNSEND — A “streatery” experiment has expanded access for customers in downtown Port Townsend — if they can find a place to park.
The City of Port Townsend partnered with the Port Townsend Main Street Program on an initiative that allows businesses to apply for special event permits to expand into property and parking spots adjacent to their businesses.
That makes it possible for customers to shop and dine outside and remain socially distant.
“We actually stole the idea from Seattle and other communities,” said Steve King, public works director.
Some owners of restaurants and retail outlets applaud the move.
“The streatery has been fabulous,” said Amber Bartl, manager of the Old Whiskey Mill on Water Street.
“We’re still operating at 50 percent capacity, so it has been a great addition, especially now that we are getting some nicer weather, and it’s great to have more outdoor seating options.”
Others have concerns about a loss of parking.
“The number one issue that is heard, pretty much from every merchant in town, is that there is not enough parking in the Water Street area,” said David Wing Kovarik, owner of Frameworks Northwest.
Kovarik’s business is located on Taylor Street, which has been used in various ways for the streatery experiment. The whole street was temporarily closed during Memorial Day weekend to allow for additional seating areas for customers to enjoy take-out meals.
More recently, parking has been blocked off either in select spots or on one side of the street to continue to allow for additional seating.
“Even taking one parking spot away is taking that potential business from multiple businesses,” Kovarik said.
“The person that parks in that spot is going to visit and spend money at various different locations, so if we make it difficult for that person to be able to park, we make it difficult for that person to be able to come into town and do their shopping, then that’s a lost sale.”
Parking had been an issue on Taylor Street long before COVID-19, but after Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order in March, parking wasn’t as much of an issue.
“I was a little nervous that, when things opened back up again, that parking might be a problem, but we still have empty parking spaces almost all the time downtown,” said Alison Hero, co-owner of the Silverwater Cafe on Taylor Street.
A more recent concern for Hero has been short-term parking for those coming to pick up orders, rather than when they stay and dine at the cafe.
Now, the street has one 15-minute parking spot. Efforts are being made to expand that, she said.
Hero added that, despite some of the parking concerns, many of the businesses have been supportive of the streatery experiment.
“The problem is there is no easy answer to this,” Kovarik said.
“There are so many dynamics of what’s going on with keeping people safe and social distancing and promoting the businesses that are in town that it is difficult to know what to do.”
King agreed it is a balancing act between creating vitality in the downtown by having people out in the streets and frequenting the shops and restaurants and a loss of parking spots because of the health concerns.
While the streatery concept is open to retail businesses as well as restaurants, it’s the restaurants that are seeing more success, said Mari Mullen, Port Townsend Main Street Program executive director.
“When we have checked in with business owners, the response has ranged from a retailer saying they loved that the city was making the streets more walkable and better for social distancing, but thinks it has a more positive impact for the restaurants than the retailer, yet still very supportive of the initiative,” Mullen said.
The experiment could become a permanent part of the city’s open streets program.
“It’s all a big demonstration effort and trial with two objectives, one trying to help businesses safely recover from COVID, and the other is to see how the community likes this experiment and see if we want to create a more permanent program in years to come,” King said.
Barring any other developments regarding COVID, the streatery program is set to remain in effect until September, at which time the Port Townsend City Council will evaluate its effectiveness and look into possible next steps.
To apply for a COVID-19 Recovery Special Event Streatery and Parklet, go to tinyurl.com/PDN-streatery.
Reporter Ken Park can be reached at [email protected].