Patrons enjoy food and drinks at the Farmington Brewing Co.’s rear expanded outdoor patio Sept. 25.

Patrons enjoy food and drinks at the Farmington Brewing Co.’s rear expanded outdoor patio Sept. 25.

Photo by Deb Jacques

Farmington council extends outdoor dining rules through April 2021

By: Jonathan Shead | Farmington Press | Published October 7, 2020


FARMINGTON — If you’ve enjoyed dining outside at one of Farmington’s many restaurant pop-up patios, then you’re in luck. Farmington City Council members unanimously voted to extend the relaxed zoning requirements that originally allowed those patios to be erected.

Council members originally approved easing certain zoning restrictions within the city to allow the Downtown Development Authority to work with restaurants and retailers to establish extended outdoor seating and sidewalk sales June 1.

Under the new extension, extended outdoor dining and sidewalk sales will be permissible until April 2021.

“I think we need to give our businesses, specifically this restaurant industry, every fighting chance we can,” DDA Director Kate Knight said, adding that with various patron comfort levels, the city needs to help businesses provide different dining options.

Sidecar Slider Bar owner Scot Pelc said he’s dealt with his fair share of patrons uncomfortable with the idea of dining inside.

“With the DDA and city setting up this extra patio for us, that gave us an opportunity to not go on a wait on Fridays and Saturdays, and not turn people away,” he said.

Farmington Brewing Co. owner Jason Schlaff agreed that his expanded patio “100% made the difference.”

“I was able to get through without cutting pay (or) cutting health care benefits. Some of that was definitely the help from Oakland County grants, but by and large, although we’re down about 40% to date from last year, it made a tremendous difference.”

Another merchant told Knight the expanded dining area allowed for a 35% bump in weekend hours and revenue. The back parking lot at Basement Burger Bar, now with live music, fills up quickly on Friday nights, and Knight said sales at the jewelry store adjacent to Pelc’s restaurant have increased.

“Sometimes, if you have a beer and slider, it makes you want to buy a diamond ring,” she joked.

Cities across southeast Michigan have allowed restaurants and retailers to expand onto sidewalks and city streets. The case could be argued that, without those eased restrictions, some businesses may shutter indefinitely, but will patrons still flock to outdoor patios as temperatures drop?

Schlaff thinks they will, but Knight said “that remains to be seen.”

“I can’t imagine anyone who wanted to come in wouldn’t take advantage of maybe being a little chilly but (in) a fully functional, fully protected patio with heating elements,” Schlaff said.

Both the DDA and business owners alike have been scrambling to find outdoor heaters, canopies, vinyl igloos and other accessories, but Knight said those winter items are hard to find.

“If we could supply heaters for every business in town, we’d do it in a heartbeat, but the reality is that they seem to be universally unavailable,” she said, adding the DDA is hoping to receive a $30,000 reimbursement from the CARES Act funding. Even with that, though, businesses would need to chip in, she said.

“Our budget is pretty much tightly committed for the rest of the year, hosting the full slate of events, maintenance and other support we provide to downtown businesses,” she added. “We are talking about this in hopes of opening up the opportunity for businesses to take advantage however they see fit.”

The city plans to work with businesses to provide snow removal, salting and other maintenance services, as well.

Despite the hardship of finding affordable equipment, if any at all, which Pelc has seen costing $500-$600 for low-end vinyl igloos and $3,00-$19,000 for expensive ones, he said he’ll be trying to take advantage of the eased restriction through winter in any way possible. Pelc would take advantage of the opportunity every year if it were made available.

“Who knows? If we can get an extra month of use out of that area, it may end up being worth it.”

Schlaff still isn’t sure where he stands, however, wondering if the return on investment will be worth it. Still, he acknowledged it would be a harsh winter without the expanded seating.

“I can’t imagine surviving with 36-38 seats inside until April 15. I think that would be a real challenge.”

Fearing the worst of what came with the original closures in March, Pelc wants to plead with patrons to keep his and other businesses in Farmington packed.

“Keep us packed as much as we can during the cold season, because it’s not just the restaurants itself, but everyone who works (here),” he said. “A line out the door on Fridays and Saturdays doesn’t do us any good Monday through Thursday if we’re empty.”