In advance of outdoor dining being allowed to return to Rehoboth Beach’s sidewalks Thursday, April 1, city employees reinstalled walkway-creating barriers Wednesday, March 31.
Last summer, the city installed barriers in early May to accommodate restaurants and COVID-related social distancing with pedestrians. The barriers were removed in early November for the winter, but commissioners decided to bring them back this summer after it was clear restaurant capacity restrictions would not be lifted in advance of the 2021 season. Commissioners have decided that even if those restrictions are lifted sometime this summer, the barriers will remain through the fall again.
Public Works Director Kevin Williams said city staff was out early – before 5 a.m. – to beat traffic and the predicted rain. He said there were roughly 120 barriers installed.
Susan Towers, city spokesperson, said the city is still trying to figure out exactly how many restaurants need barriers. In all, she said, 44 restaurants got outdoor dining permits and three retailers got outdoor retail permits to allow for clothing racks on the sidewalk.
Restaurateur Mark Hunker owns Jam Bistro and Eden Restaurant on the ocean block of Baltimore Avenue. He said last summer, the barriers provided significant help and he’s looking forward to their return. The barriers helped bring people back to the restaurants when they were first installed and then kept customers coming back well into the fall, he said.
Hunker said the barriers are also good for his employees. Another six tables means the restaurants are able to bring back a good number of the employees, he said.
Last summer, because of issues trying to meet accessibility requirements, only Jam was able to use the barriers. Hunker said the accessibility issue has been resolved now, and Eden will have barriers out front, too.
Restaurateur Megan Kee owns three restaurants throughout Rehoboth’s commercial district – Houston White Co. on Rehoboth Avenue, Dalmata on South First Street and La Fable on Baltimore Avenue. She said she is definitely having barriers installed in front of La Fable and is working on getting outdoor dining set up for Dalmata around the corner on Wilmington Avenue.
Kee said she wished the barriers weren’t bright red, but overall she credited the city with working hard to accommodate requests and thought the program was a success. Residents and customers have responded to the outdoor dining option, so it’s exciting, she said.
“We haven’t had any issues with alcohol being allowed outside,” she said.
Kee said she had similar accessibility issues with La Fable last summer, but again, with more time, the city has been able to find a way to accommodate her request this summer.
City officials are in the beginning stages of evaluating, and then possibly changing, the streetscape of Wilmington and Baltimore avenues. The first meeting of a task force created for the project was March 31.
Hunker said he would like to see the city figure out a way to incorporate more permanent outdoor dining opportunities.
As a restaurant owner and year-round resident, it would be great, he said. However, said Hunker, as a former city commissioner he understands there are a lot of issues to be considered, such as traffic, the environment and costs.
Kee would also like to see the city make permanent changes to outdoor dining. The world has changed, and this is a wonderful opportunity to account for those changes to the city’s dining experience, she said.