A brainstorming session between Leslie Gerrish, co-owner of The Bean coffee shop in downtown Vermillion and Nate Welch, president of the Vermillion Chamber and Development Company (VCDC), has led to a unique way for downtown businesses to hopefully increase their business volume while promoting social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Customers of some businesses may now sit outside on Vermillion streets where cars usually park. This option will allow both the downtown establishments and their clientele to more easily follow COVID-19 rules.
An emergency ordinance approved by the Vermillion City Council last month makes the unique outdoor seating possible. It requires that barricades be put in place to separate the seating areas from downtown traffic.
The ordinance also changes some rules so that on-sale alcohol may be allowed outside bars and restaurants that have expanded their seating to outdoors.
At one of the initial meetings held with business owners and representatives of the VCDC, it was proposed that three locations on the block of Main Street from Court Street to Market Street be barricaded to allow outdoor seating.
There were issues yet to resolve at the end of that meeting, such as the hours alcohol sales were to be allowed, who supplies tables and chairs, the cleanup in the closed parking spaces and where the street sweeper cannot get to outside of the closed parking stalls.
Other issues included who would supply and pay for the traffic barriers. Vermillion city staff identified a company last month that rents “jersey barriers” which are currently in place in the downtown business district. The barriers are filled with water to give them weight.
Later meetings last month between the VCDC and business owners revealed that additional barricaded areas were desired: a spot in front of Hartford Steak House on Court Street and another on Kidder Street by the Old Lumber Company.
Alcohol and malt beverage license holders made it known in that second meeting that they wanted to be able to allow customers to purchase inside the business and then go outside as well to allow for on-sale liquor sales.
To allow this to happen, the Vermillion City Council amended ordinances to allow current license holders to apply for a special license for the sale of alcoholic beverages that correspond to the license that they are currently issued.
The changes were done as an emergency ordinance to allow for the implementation of the outdoor seating plan prior to mid-July. The special licenses expire in 60 days and the VCDC and downtown businesses have settled on a recommendation for a beginning and ending time for alcoholic beverage sales and the use of barricades that meet the DOT safety requirements.
Everyone involved also reached a consensus on uniform days to allow alcohol sales that are less than the 15 consecutive days that state statute specifies as the maximum number of days a special permit can be issued.