This past summer, Elyria officials agreed to give a test-run to a proposal suggested by owners at Le Rendez Vous Cafe, a Broad Street deli that opened this past year.
Sara Elkhamiri, one of Le Rendez Vous` owners, suggested at the start of the summer that the city consider allowing businesses to offer outdoor seating.
On June 1, Elyria officials agreed to give it a try, temporarily suspending a city law that forbade businesses from setting up tables or eating areas on the public sidewalks along Broad Street and the downtown district.
Angie Byington, Elyria`s planning director, said the city`s zoning code doesn`t permit any services to be conducted outside of a closed building – no merchandise sales, no outdoor food patios, nothing.
The temporary suspension on that portion of the zoning code opened up a new world for businesses that took advantage of it.
Moss` Prime Rib & Spaghetti House and Le Rendez Vous were the two that quickly took advantage of the new arrangement, setting up outdoor patio areas that proved to be a huge draw for customers.
“We were all for it,” Elkhamiri said. “It was good – we were really happy with it. The people who came preferred to smoke during their lunch hour; they could come in, take a break and smoke a cigarette with friends.”
Sandy Laubenthal, owner of Moss` Prime Rib & Spaghetti House, said the city`s move to allow outdoor seating was a major boon to her summer business, especially with Ohio`s new anti-smoking law in restaurants and bars.
“It increased my summer business 100 percent,” Laubenthal said. “The outdoor dining was the best thing the city ever let us do down here.”
Moss` not only set up tables outside but also installed removable wrought-iron gates that were set up when the restaurant was open.
“People felt secure, and they didn`t feel like they were sitting in the middle of the sidewalk,” Laubenthal said.
Typically, summer was a dead time for the business, she said.
“This year people loved sitting outside, seeing the park, hearing that fountain and looking at the old buildings,” Laubenthal said. “They even loved it when their friends would walk by and stop to talk to them.”
Both women are hoping the city makes a move to allow outdoor dining permanently.
The moratorium on the outdoor seating expired Nov. 1, and Byington responded by sending out a follow-up survey to downtown businesses.
If the city doesn`t get negative feedback from the surveys, officials could permanently allow outdoor seating.
“It would be up to Planning Commission and City Council,” Byington said, adding that she`s hoping to have all the survey responses by early January.
Elyria Mayor Bill Grace said the proposal could use some fine-tuning, but it shows promise.
“We have a strong interest in supporting that on a permanent basis,” Grace said. “We need to fine-tune the parameters, like accommodating pedestrians walking down the sidewalk.
“But so far, those businesses – they way they did it – were very well done,” Grace said.