WASHINGTON — Colder weather could spell trouble for D.C. restaurants that have come to rely on their streateries for business, but the District is working to help them survive winter.
D.C.'s Phase 2 guidelines limit indoor dining capacity to 50% capacity, so many restaurants have taken advantage of the city's option to erect streateries on roads and sidewalks.
Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development John Falcicchio said there are now 647 registered streateries that did not exist before the pandemic as well as 600 summer gardens, or already established outdoor spaces.
“The outdoor space is really important, and also just trying to reimagine the space as we approach the holiday season," Nina Gilchrist, owner and manager of Provost, said.
To help, the District is offering $6,000 "Winter Ready grants" to help restaurants make their outdoor dining spaces hospitable during the colder months. They'll help fund things like heaters, tents and furniture.
Provost is one of the 500 restaurants that Falcicchio said have already applied for the grant.
“We're also in the midst of a hospitality recession," Falcicchio said. "We are trying to make sure [restaurants] stay in business and stay operational, and they’re also a major employer of the district.”
He said the money comes from federal funding the District received from the CARES Act. He said that's still only pulling from a pot of $490 million as compared to the $1.5 billion states received.
A February 2020 report from the Office of Nightlife and Culture says D.C.'s nightlife industry supports more than 2,400 businesses, nearly 65,000 jobs, and generates $562 million in annual tax revenue.
“A $6,000 grant would help us to stay alive and hopefully continue to operate," Gilchrist said.
Gilchrist said recently she's been receiving three main questions from customers deciding whether or not to eat at her restaurant:
- Do they have outdoor seating?
- Do they have heaters?
- Do they have some type of covering?
Falcicchio said his department has also partnered with DCRA and the Fire Department to waive inspection fees for the heaters. He said the Risk Management office has agreed to push back the new outdoor dining insurance requirement to January 2022 as well.
“When we look at the closures, it’s really hard for us, because what we want to do is do everything we can to save that business," Falcicchio said. "Because we know how much effort it will take to attract a new business to fill that space that they were in, and it means every time that there’s a closure, it means that people are without a job.”
For Gilchrist, the grants will help keep a 20-year-long dream alive.
Applications are still available here, and D.C. plans to start sending money out this coming week.