Inclement weather could generate a decline in business for restaurants that have been able to expand outdoor operations during the pandemic.
The summer months have allowed businesses on Franklin Street and elsewhere to use outdoor seating practices to bring in business while adhering to social distancing guidelines.
But despite initial success with outdoor seating and customer turnout, the coming colder weather may pose a challenge to businesses as outdoor seating will potentially change.
In North Carolina, restaurants are currently capped at 50 percent capacity indoors.
Business owners, such as Bret Oliverio of Sup Dogs, have expressed concern over the lack of indoor seating and how the dropping temperatures will affect business.
Sup Dogs currently holds 11 tables indoors and will acquire two heaters for outdoor seating.
But Oliverio said seasonal weather could have a detrimental effect on customer turnout, especially if there are more COVID-19 outbreaks.
“If there’s another wave then, I think the combination of another wave, minimal outdoor seating due to cold weather, I think it’s really gonna put a strain on business,” Oliverio said.
Despite these concerns, the Town of Chapel Hill and the Downtown Chapel Hill Partnership have joined efforts in an attempt to prepare Franklin Street businesses for the colder months ahead.
Both the Town Council and the Downtown Partnership have made recommendations for businesses to incorporate heaters and outdoor lighting to keep serving patrons outside.
According to the Town, heaters may be put in place if they meet certain requirements. Heaters are required to be at least five feet away from buildings, combustibles and any exit path. They are prohibited from being put under tents and canopies or on exterior balconies.
Along with these measures, the Town has also established a Franklin Street walkway to provide a safe path for pedestrians to abide by social distancing guidelines. As part of the walkway, additional parking spaces and loading decks have been added.
Despite the fact that there are measures being taken to assist Franklin Street restaurants, the residents of Chapel Hill will have the ultimate say in deciding the fate of these businesses.
Lia Salvatierra, a UNC student, said the pandemic makes it difficult for businesses to succeed in any capacity.
“In general, I think there’s just gonna be less of a demand for it because, I don’t know, cold weather just makes people want to stay inside more,” Salvatierra said.
But Oliviero said he thinks business will depend on the course of the virus over the next few months.
"If numbers stay low, then people people will be comfortable sitting indoors," he said.
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