Richmond's parklet program gets mixed reviews

Posted at 1:32 PM, May 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-10 13:32:29-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- The City of Richmond is helping some business owners convert curbside parking spaces into outdoor seating for customers during the pandemic.

The extra seating is made possible thanks to Richmond's 'Picnic in a Parklet' program .

Scoop, a small-batch ice cream shop on Strawberry Street in the Fan, now has a parklet out front where customers can enjoy ice cream in comfort and socially distant from others.

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"It hasn't even been a week, but we already have been like a big change and everything," Scoop's manager Becky McMorrow said about business since the addition of the parklet. "It also allows [customers], to eat and then come in for more, instead of just enjoying it in their car on the ride home or something like that."

Max Hepp-Buchanan, Director of Riverfront and Downtown Placemaking at Venture Richmond, worked with the city to help businesses convert space into parklets.

"I think it really does help people feel like things are starting to get back to normal," he said.

He added there were a number of things to consider before construction.

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"Not every space is suitable for a park," he said. "These are public spaces, just like any city park. So there's no table service allowed in the parklet. But if you go inside Scoop and get ice cream, you can certainly come out here and sit here and enjoy."

Matthew McDonald, owner of Joe's Inn also in Richmond's Fan District, said the parket does not work for all businesses.

"We are reserving our judgment on the success of this," he said. "A full service out here would work for everybody."

McDonald said he applied for a parklet right away in an effort to come up with ways for people to dine in his restaurant. But since he can't serve customers there, in the new outdoor space has not been as helpful as he’d hoped.

Matthew McDonald Joe's Inn 01.png

"You can't serve alcohol here because it's city property," he added.

McDonald said he's looking to build a patio behind his restaurant.

"It has to go through City Council because there's a special permits amendment to a special permit," he said. "Everything with a special permit takes six to eight months."

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Buchanan said even with restrictions, there was still a lot of interest in the parklet program.

"There's certainly been a lot more interest in parklets since they've been on the ground, which is great. And we'll see where the program goes from there," he said.

Last week Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said the state could lift capacity limits and relax rules for social distancing if the rate of coronavirus infections continues to fall.

Northam said the state’s tentative plan is to loosen restrictions on June 15.

That means that businesses such as theaters and yoga studios could operate at full capacity.

Northam said the state still needs to evaluate a possible change to its mandate for wearing masks.

He said that Virginia will most likely continue to follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The governor, however, stressed that more Virginians need to get vaccinated to guard against the potentially deadly COVID-19.

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