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‘Al fresco’ initiative seeks to create Curbside restaurant service

Katie Tabeling
wilmington al fresco dining

Al fresco dining in Wilmington | Photo c/o City of Wilmington

WILMINGTON ⁠— In an effort to bring a sense of normalcy to Delaware and expand dining options, Wilmington is closing off some parking spaces so restaurants can expand further outside starting with an iconic downtown street.

“Curbside Wilmington” closed off 20 parking spaces along Market Street between Ninth and Fourth Street so that restaurants nearby can use them as parklets, where dining tables are set up, or for curbside service. City officials, Downtown Visions and The Committee of 100 launched the initiative Friday to entice city residents to start dining out and shopping again.

Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki touted the effort as “bringing back the vibrant, exciting heart of the Downtown Restaurant District” that closed overnight during the pandemic.

“While businesses small and large across Wilmington are struggling to adapt to the new environment, we are happy to partner with our friends at Downtown Visions and The Committee of 100 to lend support to businesses trying to meet new challenges,” the mayor said in a prepared statement.

Wilmington officials suspended permit requirements that were required under Gov. John Carney’s state of emergency order. But four restaurants —  Bardea Food & Drink, Farmer and The Cow, Chelsea Tavern and El Diablo — had permits approved.

“Curbside Wilmington” includes another 10 restaurants: Café Mezzanotte, Cavanaugh’s Restaurant, DiMeo’s Pizza, Green Box Kitchen, Jimmy John’s, La Fia Bistro, Makers Alley, Stitch House Brewery, Tasties 302 and Tonic Bar & Grille. Downtown Visions provides additional tables and chairs to restaurants if needed and custom-made railings created by the Challenge Program for safety.

Jennifer Kmiec, executive director of the Committee of 100, said that the “dream team” of Downtown Visions and the Wilmington Office of Economic Development had worked throughout the weeks to understand what downtown businesses needed in terms of support.

“This is about enhancing what retailers and restaurants can already do, providing the infrastructure in place,” she said. “We want to see this expand, ideally to the west side, because this really works best when there’s a cluster of businesses. We’ve found that restaurants draw more people to shop retail, and vice versa.”

To draw even more people, the Grand will offer live entertainment on Fridays. That makes the experience fresh for visitors while they return to Market street, said Downtown Visions Executive Director Martin Hageman.

Another six parking spaces off Market Street will be used for a free valet service at the offered by Gala Valet from 5 -10 p.m. from Tuesday through Saturday. Colonial Parking, the city’s largest private parking garage manager, will also allow free parking.

“This is a true sense of community in Wilmington, from our community partners, those in arts and entertainment and our government leaders,” Hageman said. “It’s about listening to the needs of our businesses since our customer base is so different from what you see from Newark and Rehoboth Beach. We must avail ourselves with what solutions we can make together.”

Wilmington is the latest jurisdiction to work with restaurants to shut down streets or expand outdoor seating options onto the sidewalks. In Sussex County, Georgetown shut down streets and placed picnic tables to help restaurants that were limited to 30% capacity in Phase 1.

Rehoboth Beach also installed red barriers to block parking spots along the first two blocks of Rehoboth Avenue, the main road lined with merchants, in a bid to encourage diners to eat outside. Thirty-one permits were approved but the Rehoboth Board of Commissioners is expected to revisit the measure within days.

The city has spent $54,526 on barricades blocking parking spots. With the loss of spaces and an unusual summer start, Rehoboth Beach saw a 11% drop in parking revenue in the first days of June. Last year, the resort collected $228,145 in parking revenue from June 1 to 9. The same time period in 2020 collected $200,799.

-Katie Tabeling


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