Last week, the East Passyunk Avenue Business Improvement District announced it would temporarily close five blocks to cars in order to make more room for outdoor dining. The closure was supposed to happen this weekend, July 10 to 12. But those plans have been scrapped, with the organization citing safety concerns.
Temporary street closures are one of the expanded outdoor dining options offered by the city during the COVID-19 pandemic, while indoor dining is prohibited. The proposed closures — which have not happened anywhere in Philly yet — are designed for multiple restaurants to take advantage of at the same time.
East Passyunk Avenue’s initial announcement was met on social media with excitement from some and concerns about social distancing from others. Any restaurant offering outdoor dining is expected to follow social distancing and public safety guidelines, including spacing tables at least six feet apart. But multiple eateries setting up a couple hundred extra seats (and selling alcohol) outside sounds like a recipe for a festival atmosphere, one that would put mask-less people in close contact.
In a statement to Eater, the East Passyunk Avenue Business Improvement District said:
Just as the City has been constantly evaluating reopening guidance on a daily basis, East Passyunk Avenue has been doing the same. Given a number of outside circumstances, we have decided to postpone Open on the Avenue. We hope to be able to share a new date with you very soon. The pilot program format is a positive opportunity, and we have put together the framework for a successful execution of the elements that we can control, but we need to take all factors into consideration and focus on what will be beneficial for our small businesses as well as a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone involved.
Old City District was also looking into a temporary street closure but is reevaluating the idea at least in part because of an incident where a local bar owner sitting outside a restaurant on Second Street pulled a gun on a passerby who admonished diners for not following social distancing guidelines, according to the Inquirer.
So far, the Northern Liberties Business Improvement District is going ahead with its own plans for a one-day street closure, taking place on Saturday. Second Street from Germantown Avenue to Spring Garden will be closed to cars from noon to 8 p.m. with restaurants setting up extra outdoor tables. Reservations are required, in an attempt to avoid people lining up.
Update July 9, 4:11 p.m.: The Northern Liberties street closure isn’t happening either, with the business improvement district announcing the cancelation on Thursday while citing concerns over the weather forecast and public health and safety. In a statement, NLBID executive director Kris Kennedy said:
The unique geography of N. 2nd St presents a great opportunity for social distancing and safe enjoyment of outdoor dining, but also logistical challenges. We feel confident that, working with the City’s multi-agency team and other business districts, we can strike the right balance for expanded outdoor seating that meets the requirements of public health officials and evolving needs of businesses. We have notified and been working with the restaurants - and we will continue to work with them hand-in-hand to best meet their needs during this difficult year. A new date and event logistics have not been selected but we will advise as soon as those details are 100% confirmed with all participants and coordinating agencies.