Brisk business: City of Edmonton considers extending temporary patio season

Traditional patio weather is coming to an end, but as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Edmonton bar and restaurant owners are hoping to serve customers outdoors all winter.

Earlier this year, the City of Edmonton relaxed rules for temporary patios, allowing restaurants and breweries to expand onto sidewalks and streets without paying a fee or obtaining a development permit.

Temporary patios introduced under these rules are permitted until Dec. 31, but some business owners say if given the opportunity they would keep them open through the winter.

“We’re planning on extending it until as long as we can in the winter,” said Kyla Kazeil, co-owner of The Common.

The gastropub took advantage of the city’s relaxed rules this summer by extending its patio onto the sidewalk of 109th Street. The patio is winterized, with seven heaters.

“There’s interest and appetite to explore this,” said Nick Lilley, interim executive director of the Downtown Business Association. 

The DBA is in talks with downtown business owners about creative ways to serve customers this winter. It is also considering extending Downtown Live — a live performance series on downtown patios — beyond its end date of Sept. 30.

Other cities, such as Ottawa and Vancouver, have already decided to extend their temporary patio programs.

City of Edmonton spokesperson Anthony Toderian said businesses and associations have been requesting permission to run their temporary patios beyond December.

“Administration is investigating options for winter patios but a decision has not been finalized,” he said in an email.

Senior planner Lesley Vaage said in a statement the city is “considering the possible options, keeping in mind snow and ice removal concerns and knowing that businesses require certainty to plan for the winter.”

The city is studying the temporary patio program’s usage and determining whether it should continue.

“At this point, we have not determined whether this would require council’s approval,” Vaage said.

Winter patios can work

A small number of Edmonton businesses keep patios open on their properties during the winter, including Cafe Bicyclette in Bonnie Doon and Little Brick, a cafe in Riverdale.

Extending the temporary patio program would make it easier for many more businesses to do so — especially smaller establishments that relied on sidewalks, boardwalks and traffic lane closures to run patios in summer. 

The idea has been tested before.

With the city’s permission, Rocky Mountain Ice House, a pub on Jasper Avenue, kept its boardwalk patio running this past winter.

The bar enticed parka-wearing Edmontonians to the 24-seat space by promoting a social group, called the Polar Patio Club, offering live music and giving out embroidered badges.

“People loved it,” said owner-operator Susan Forsey, who also owns the nearby Cask & Barrel pub.

Rocky Mountain Ice House staff embraced snow this winter, running snowmen-building contests instead of shoveling it away. (Submitted by Susan Forsey)

COVID-19 fears

Forsey and Kazeil worry that without extra patio space, revenue could drop more than it has.

With many office workers still working from home, downtown bars and restaurants have seen lunchtime and happy-hour crowds all but disappear.

“They’re slowly starting to come back, but it’s been months of lost revenue,” Forsey said.

Though she said both her restaurants have top-of-the-line HVAC systems, many regulars tell her they are uncomfortable dining indoors due to the risk of contracting COVID-19. For the same reasons, staff also prefer serving outdoors, Kazeil said.

Both women said they hope the city extends the temporary patio program.

Kazeil said there’s a mental health argument to be made for doing so as the pandemic continues.

“It’s important to socialize and it’s important to be able to safely get out,” she said.

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