“One for the road” has taken on a whole new meaning in downtown Gainesville.
It’s all part of a new initiative called StreateryGNV in which patrons can sit and eat in blocked-off, designated areas approved by the City of Gainesville.
The program, which began Sept. 12, allows participating restaurants to expand their dining rooms outdoors by having customers sit in tented areas. These dining spaces will either be adjacent to the establishment or in lots around the city, said Gainesville spokeswoman Rossana Passaniti.
The effort supports local businesses that have taken a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic while fostering conditions conducive to social distancing, Passaniti said.
“This is an opportunity to really come together with the business community and help them during this really difficult time and give individuals the opportunity to patronize businesses,” she said. “And it’s in a responsible way.”
Earlier this month, the Gainesville City Commission suspended enforcement of the open container restriction allowing citizens to drink on city property. Suspending the enforcement ensures that patrons being served alcohol on the street are not violating any ordinance, Passaniti said.
Coordinating road closures was an obstacle, she said. University Avenue is owned by the Florida Department of Transportation, so the two entities had to work together to close parts of the road.
One westbound lane on West University Avenue between the 1700 and 1900 blocks will be closed until the conclusion of StreateryGNV in November or December, according to a press release. Other closures include various parking lots and parts of Northwest Second Street and Southwest First Avenue.
In order to compensate for parking lot closures, parking in the garage on Southwest First Avenue is free while StreateryGNV is operating, Passaniti said.
“Ultimately these street closures are intended to support adjacent businesses — permitting them to extend into the public right of way while enabling social distancing protocols to be implemented,” said City Manager Lee Feldman in the release.
Businesses interested in participating in Streatery GNV must first fill out an outdoor seating application. As of Tuesday, 22 businesses have obtained the permit including Loosey’s, Alpin Bistro and Fat Daddy’s.
One restaurant, Volta Coffee, Tea & Chocolate at 48 SW 2nd St. has only been open for take-out service and outside seating during the pandemic. StreateryGNV gave co-owner Anthony Rue the opportunity to safely expand the restaurant's seating.
“Having expanded covered outdoor seating, right adjacent to us, is very attractive,” Rue said. “We're really hoping that it catches on.”
The pandemic has been a difficult time for independent businesses, he said.
“We're all kind of in this together. We want to see everybody make it through this,” Rue said. “We've worked so hard to create a vibrant, independent scene.”
Diners choose to eat outside on the covered street patio outside Flaco’s Cuban Bakery on Sept. 18, 2020. Flaco’s is one of multiple downtown Gainesville restaurants that have participated in the Streatery GNV initiative, which inspires restaurants to block off access roads to create outside dining options for guests.