Puyallup footed the bill to grow outdoor dining for downtown businesses as they face Phase 2 restrictions.

Seven restaurants and bars have been given a small patio space the size of a parking space, known as a “parklet.” The parklet are placed in a parking space outside the restaurant or bar with tables and chairs for outside dining.

Anthem Coffee & Tea, CaskCades Pub, The Forum, Mingle, Perry’s, The Rose Restaurant and Wicked Pie Pizza will have the parklets for the spring and summer months, the city’s spokesperson Eric Johnson said.

Phase 2 of the state’s Roadmap to Recovery plans restrict restaurants, retailers and gyms to 25% capacity, down from 50% in Phase 3. Pierce County slid back to Phase 2 on April 2, after a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalization rates.

Puyallup spent $18,000 of federal dollars on the parklets. Puyallup received $1.8 million in CARES funding to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. About half of the funding, $710,390 was spent on reimbursing the city for staffing to respond to the pandemic and outfitting city offices with public health safety measures, according to a presentation to City Council in November.

About 74 businesses were awarded $222,000 in grants, and another $150,000 went to help businesses prepare for the winter months by bolstering their online presence. Another $40,000 was spent on tourism marketing, according to the presentation. The city set aside $50,000 in community grants for social services, and $55,000 for social services like providing a temporary shelter for those experiencing homelessness.

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The small patio space is part of a city effort to increase outside dining and retail options for businesses impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. The Open Air Pilot Program launched in June 2020 as a response to COVID-19 and its impacts on the downtown business community, Johnson said.

The program offers four options: temporary sidewalk cafes, curbside café and parklet, temporary retail and dining pop-ups, and temporary street café.

Mayor Julie Door said parklets allow residents to enjoy the businesses while adhering to social distancing requirements.

“As vehicle traffic and downtown parking usage decreased, we looked at our empty street and sidewalk spaces as an opportunity to help our businesses,” Door said in a statement.

Wicked Pie Pizza’s co-owner Mary Anderson said the city’s parklet made all the difference. The downtown pizza restaurant began using a parklet in September.

“When we were in Phase 1 with absolutely no indoor dining, it saved us,” she told The Puyallup Herald. “While we were in phase 1, it gave us a 50 percent increase in sales.”

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Initially over the winter months, Wicked Pizza Pie was given two parklets, but as the program became more popular in summer months, Puyallup used a lottery system to dole out the parklets. Downtown businesses re-applied in October 2020 and again in March 2021.

Anderson said the city has been phenomenally supportive of downtown businesses.

“It makes me proud to be part of a city so helpful to business,” she said.

Matia Long is the director of operations for Anthem Coffee & Tea, where parklets better configure outdoor seating to accommodate all customers.

“It’s a win-win for us and helps establish customer confidence when you have options,” she said.

Last June when the program launched, businesses were required to pay for the construction of the parklet.

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“However, due to the significant costs associated with construction, the City decided to step in and build the parklets at no charge to the downtown businesses,” Johnson said.

Puyallup’s economic development manager, Meredith Neal, said the process has been a learning experience.

“When we received CARES Act funding, part of which we could use for economic recovery, we realized it just made more sense for the City to use these funds to assist with the parklets,” Neal said. “Now, downtown businesses can apply for this program at little to no cost to them.”

The permit process for a parklet would normally cost around $300, Johnson said.

Johnson said the parklets can only be used during the business’ regular hours.

The pilot program ends on Oct. 31. If the parklets are successful, Johnson said they could become permanent downtown fixtures.