Local bars are optimistic that new social districts will be able to help sales in Ferndale, as they haven’t been able to match their normal business during the pandemic. This optimism includes Chris Garcia, a bartender and manager at Howe’s Bayou, pictured, who misses being able to serve drinks to his customers.

Local bars are optimistic that new social districts will be able to help sales in Ferndale, as they haven’t been able to match their normal business during the pandemic. This optimism includes Chris Garcia, a bartender and manager at Howe’s Bayou, pictured, who misses being able to serve drinks to his customers.

Photo provided by Chris Garcia


Ferndale bars feel excited about potential social districts

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published February 8, 2021

FERNDALE — Ferndale bars and restaurants have been battling the economic toll of the COVID-19 pandemic for the past year, but a new program aims to help increase business come springtime.

On Feb. 22, the Ferndale City Council will consider the approval of establishing social districts on both sides of Woodward Avenue in the downtown. Named the Ferndale Patio Zone, social districts would allow customers to buy alcoholic beverages and drink them in public in designated areas.

Social districts would give patrons more room to work with in Ferndale in terms of space around the downtown to drink, as visitors still have trepidation about being in bars and restaurants during the pandemic.

Jesse Shepherd-Bates, the general manager of WABCO, which operates the Emory, the WAB, the Loving Touch and PORT, thinks the social districts concept will do a good job of helping out businesses.

“Anything that can drive more people in helps a lot,” he said. “Last year when we opened up, just having the patios open, everybody felt more comfortable. Obviously, we just opened up inside (Feb. 1), but I think both guests and staff are way more comfortable with outdoor dining and the idea that people can come in, grab a drink and then go hang outside and space out and not (be) breathing the same ventilated air with each other.”

WABCO’s establishments opened back up in June last year after operating as carryout-only for several months. The Emory, Shepherd-Bates said, didn’t open inside until the fall. Prior to this time they were “exclusively patio.”

“Because we’re part of a business with the WAB and PORT and the Loving Touch, we were able to make one giant patio, which helped us out a ton,” he said. “I could see where that could expand to this more Ferndale-based patio.”

Once the winter season hit, those businesses lost their patio space and slowed down, which Shepherd-Bates believed was true for everyone who wasn’t working with tents.

Shepherd-Bates thinks the social districts can do some good in helping those businesses that are struggling.

“I’m sure it would help everybody around here and maybe help tie the community together, especially as far as bars go, and open up some fun opportunities for cross promotion between bars and everything like that,” he said.

The pandemic’s economic effect on businesses has been extensively noted during the past year, but often forgotten in the conversation is the loss of personal interaction with those who run the bars and their patrons.

Chris Garcia is a bartender and manager at Howe’s Bayou and has been working in Ferndale for more than 15 years. But with the pandemic ongoing, he hasn’t been able to use his skills as a bartender for his customers, so he has been working the carryout area for the business.

Garcia said this time has been tough for him and other bartenders, because they do have big followings and a lot of regulars they cater to, and that’s something that’s been missing during the pandemic.

“I’ve been bartending in Ferndale since 2005, so you do have a lot of regulars and people you’re used to seeing, and hearing their stories, and watching their kids grow up, that don’t come out anymore,” he said.

With that in mind, any way to reconnect with those customers would be great to Garcia, which is why he feels the social districts are a great idea.

“I think it would be a great way to get started,” he said. “There are so many people that are gonna be afraid to come inside to get that drink to go outside. … I get it. People feel uncomfortable sitting inside a bar atmosphere. I think it’ll be great. At least for a little bit, you’re not gonna have that personal contact, but at least you can have that quick reconnect and they can get their favorite Old-Fashioned or Sazerac.”