EASTON — The town of Easton is extending its downtown outdoor dining program and is looking at ways to potentially expand the effort aimed to help restaurants survive the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Easton Town Council has voted to extend the outdoor dining program for three restaurants along Washington Street. The program allows the Washington Street Pub, Doc’s Downtown Grille and Scossa Restaurant and Lounge to use sidewalk areas and parking lanes for outdoor tables. The effort was born out of the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing rules.
The Easton Town Council is extending the existing program until Oct. 31 — approving a motion from Councilman Ron Engle.
“All three [restaurants] were in favor of continuing this into the fall. All three had great feedback from their customers,” said Jeff Lankford, marketing and events coordinator the Easton Business Alliance. “Diners still want to to eat outside.”
The pilot program launched in July and allows the restaurants to add outside tables on weekends. It costs the town $300 per month to rent barriers to enable the program.
The town is also looking at potentially expanding the program to other restaurants and shops and making the program more permanent.
Tracy Ward, executive director of the Easton Economic Development Corp., would like to see efforts to make the lane closures more aesthetically pleasing than the existing barriers.
“I think some simple beautification efforts around flowers, adding some additional tables around town that people can dine at with their carryout and then of course improving the lane closure on Washington Street,” Ward said.
“It is our main street. It is across from the courthouse. Personally, I would make an argument it deserves some investments,” she said.
Ward also floated the idea of using an electric vehicle to help transport visitors to downtown locations. “We have a lot of seniors. It gets very hot in the summertime. I think that would be enormously popular,” Ward said.
Ward said expanding and improving the outdoor project could involve finding grant money and getting contributions from downtown businesses. Lankford and Ward also said they were not sure local restaurants have the financial ability to contribute to program now. Restaurants and shops have been very hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
Councilman Don Abbatiello wants to look for grant and private sector money to help fund any expansion of the program or making it more permanent.
“I don’t think the town should be bidding the bill entirely for anything more than permanent than we are doing now,” Abbatiello said. “So, hopefully we can find some more funds out there whether it’s from business or grants. I think that is definitely something that needs to be explored.”
The town and the economic development groups are still figuring costs of making the outdoor dining program more permanent or expanding it to more locations.
Councilman Rev. Elmer Davis Jr. backs the program and wants its success solidified. Davis also voiced support for looking at new funding streams for a potential expansion.
“We need to explore all the avenues of funding and then see what is available with the city and go from there,” Davis said.
Ward said a town councilor will also be added to a beautification committee looking at the program.
Lankford and Ward are scheduled to brief the Town Council again on the program in two weeks.