As the weather breaks 70 degrees and Ithacans leave their winter coats and boots at home, restaurants in Downtown Ithaca are preparing for the second installation of Aurora Streatery – the closure of “Restaurant Row” on Aurora Street for al fresco dining.
The closure, which began April 1, is intended to give local restaurants space to expand beyond their buildings – which had limited capacity due to social distancing measures.
Participating companies include the Ithaca Ale House, Luna Inspired Street Food, Mahogany Grill and Simeon’s American Bistro
According to Gary Ferguson, executive director of the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, the block’s closure last year was a relief for local businesses in the area that have been hit by pandemic closings and less traffic.
“The pandemic is still ongoing and businesses in this region are still struggling to survive.”
Said Ferguson. “The idea of doing the same this time while companies are still in this pandemic mode is really important.”
While New York state regulations increased restaurant capacity to 75 percent, the change did not materially affect local eateries, as the regulation six feet away restricted restaurants to the seating they have inside. Ferguson said the streatery’s outdoor seating significantly increases the restaurants’ chances of meeting their sales goals.
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A product of the pandemic, the streatery, which was a product of the pandemic, was very popular with the local community last year, according to Ferguson, bringing thousands of people to downtown Ithaca to support local businesses.
“I think that was a nice goal of the project in itself. Taken together, it was a great opportunity to help businesses and the community at large,” said Ferguson.
Dean Zervos, one of the owners of Simeon’s American Bistro, said the initiative was absolutely effective in growing the business. With 50 to 60 additional outdoor seating, the restaurant can reach pre-pandemic capacity, up from 50 percent if only indoor seating is offered.
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While restaurants are keen to take advantage of the increased traffic caused by the reopening of the Streatery, there is still some level of uncertainty due to the turbulent weather in Ithaca.
However, the recent bout of good weather has encouraged many Ithacans to dine al fresco.
“It’s one of those things that makes our customers feel more comfortable because we have enough outdoor seating to accommodate them,” said Zervos. “We have a lot of people who are still a bit nasty and don’t want to eat inside.”
Sofia Yantorno, a student at Ithaca High School, enjoyed the roadside food and ate her favorite wings at Luna Inspired Street Food. The sunny weather and outdoor seating made it more convenient for Yantorno to eat in the House of Commons.
Josh Gitman ’23, who ate a meal outside of the mahogany grill, agreed and said it felt safer than eating inside.
“We wouldn’t have eaten here if we had to eat inside,” Gitman said. “You don’t want to get the virus and if you’re inside you have a high chance of catching it.”
The Aurora Streatery is expected to remain open all summer and fall weather permitting.
John Yoon ’23 contributed to the coverage.