Fear not bump-out fans.
Last week’s crash in which a suspected drunken driver plowed into Tequila’s outdoor patio doesn’t appear to have left lasting damage to the program that has gained fans among diners and restaurateurs.
Alex Rugoff, city of Durango business development and redevelopment specialist, told a group of business owners this week the city intends to bring back the outdoor patios as soon as spring weather arrives.
“The bump-outs have been a success. Unfortunately, we did have the drunken driver crash,” Rugoff told business owners during Thursday’s Business Improvement District work session held on Zoom.
Dismantling and removing bump-outs to allow for snow removal will begin Nov. 2, the Monday after Halloween, but Rugoff said bump-outs could return as soon as April if weather permits.
Already, the city plans for bump-outs to return in 2021 – looking for ways to make them both safer and more aesthetically pleasing, he said.
To aid businesses for winter, the city is looking to streamline approvals of bistro seating, allowing restaurants to maintain sidewalk tables, he said.
Despite COVID-19 restrictions, Karen Barger, owner of Seasons Rotisserie & Grill, called summer a success, and bump-outs were a major factor making the economics work in an industry with 5% margins.
Still, she said restaurants aren’t out of the woods as industry observers estimate one-third of independent restaurants are likely to go under before the novel coronavirus is under control. If those predictions prove accurate, all restaurants will suffer because supply chains from bakers, wine distributors, food distributors, ranchers and farmers will likely be disrupted.
BID Executive Director Tim Walsworth said discussions had begun to examine extending the bump-outs into winter, but the drunken driving incident showed the program “needed a pause.”
“Last week shows safety needs to be addressed,” he said.
While some worried bump-outs would take away too much parking to be of much benefit, Walsworth said the increased margins they provided restaurants likely minimized damage to Durango’s restaurant scene.
“Some people worried we were going to lose too much parking, but we traded about 50 spaces for an extra 10,000 square feet for restaurants, and I think that really made a difference,” he said.
Kris Oyler, co-founder and CEO of Peak Food & Beverage, credited bump-outs with reviving revenue at Peak’s three restaurants, Steamworks Brewing Co., El Moro and Bird’s, to 95% of 2019 sales.
July sales at El Moro actually beat July 2019 sales, he said.
Oyler said he would consider it a win if bump-outs can return to accommodate spring skiers.
Meanwhile, he said it is vital restaurants and all businesses keep current with state restrictions to take advantage of any increased capacity allowed if COVID-19 transmission rates decline.
Long-term, Walsworth said businesses and the city of Durango developed a closer working relationship as they quickly devised the bump-out program, and those ties should pay off in identifying, studying and putting in place other creative ideas to boost commerce in the age of the novel coronavirus.
Virtually overnight, the city of Durango converted Main Avenue from a four-lane road to a two-lane road with a center turn lane to provide the extra space needed for bump-outs. The added retail and dining space took up about 60 parking spaces, but that was a small percentage of the approximately 600 spots in the surrounding downtown area.
“We were so worried about the businesses we love, but I think we weathered summer OK, but now we’re coming to winter, the slow season, and we need to look at what we can do to help in October, November and how to keep December a strong month,” Walsworth said.
Barger estimates virtually every business in downtown Durango will end winter “upside down” given Snowdown has been canceled and tax payments will be due.
Rod Barker, owner of the Strater Hotel, suggested BID, downtown businesses and the city examine an old idea to create a two-block, one-way loop using Main Avenue and East Second Avenue around the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Depot in an effort to stimulate the area.
Creating the loop, he said, would provide greater visibility to East Second Avenue, provide more space for bump-outs and make snow removal easier.
Walsworth added that it seems a good time to look at many past ideas to reconfigure Main Avenue and downtown Durango in an effort to add to its vibrancy.
“Left turns complicate things, and if you have one-way traffic, that eliminates that,” he said. “I think it’s time to take a step back and look at ideas like this to see how we might reconfigure downtown,” he said.
Another idea Barker brought up was bolstering a program underway at Visit Durango to provide discounts for tourists already in Durango to stay an extra night.
“We’re not increasing our risk,” he said. “These people are already in Durango, and if they stay an extra night or two, they’re going to go out for dinner, they’re going to shop, they’re going to add a raft trip.”
David Moler, owner of Durango Rivertrippers & Adventure Tours, said the demand for outdoor recreation benefited his operation this summer, which was busier than 2019.
Demand for outdoor recreation and rural getaways already has the outdoor recreational industry predicting an even busier season in 2021, he said.
“People are going to spend the next six months cooped up in Zoom meetings and with remote learning,” he said. “I think they are going to be itching to get out in spring, and it’s going to be important for us as a community to be ready for the onslaught we’re likely to see next year.”