BEMIDJI -- Outdoor seating in public right-of-way spaces will be ending next week after nearly four and a half months.
In mid-June, the Bemidji City Council took action to allow restaurants to serve alcohol outdoors and use the public right-of-way to set up patio space. The move was in response to updated rules from Gov. Tim Walz's office which were meant to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.
Restaurants and bars had to temporarily close to dine-in customers on March 17, with only curbside pick-ups and drive-thru services allowed. While retail businesses were able to reopen May 18, restaurants had to wait a bit longer, with the first reopening date coming on June 1.
The June 1 reopen date, though, only allowed restaurants and bars to open outdoor spaces. In response, the city took action to help businesses serve customers outdoors, including blocking off segments of roads and setting up barricades. Later that month, rules were relaxed more and restaurants could open to 50% capacity.
"The feedback I've heard from restaurants is that 'every little bit helps,'" said City Manager Nate Mathews. "Considering the restricted capacity in the restaurants under the governor's order, and also just the general unease that the consumers have with going out to eat, I think it has been great providing that elbow room downtown."
Tyler Winkka, owner of the Keg N' Cork, said that even with the pandemic restrictions, the months with outdoor seating went well.
"The patio dining was a really big success," Winkka said. "We're hoping to work with the city and make it an every year thing. We had really good turnout. People enjoyed sitting outside, and with COVID, guests felt more secure."
The city's actions were temporary, though, and on Oct. 19, the barricades for outdoor seating will be taken down.
"We initially were going to keep them up until Oct. 1, but we had a couple businesses ask to keep them out longer," Mathews said. "We checked with our supplier and there was no additional costs to keep them out, so we're having them out until Oct. 19."
The end of the city's efforts coincides with temperatures starting to go down, with the winter months around the corner.
"Coming into this winter, it's going to be interesting," Winkka said. "We have plans in place to rent out the basement to small parties and working to get creative with our space in the building. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous. I think we're in a position right now, though, where we're trying to tread water and just get through it."
Indoor dining rules currently allow 50% capacity in Minnesota.