Guelph restaurants want patio extensions to last into the winter

Some municipalities allowed for extended patios to help restaurants hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Guelph's Downtown Dining District is set to end on Monday, but many businesses want to see the extensions last a while longer.

Bar owners in the area are worried about what will happen when the patio extensions end.

"It's heartbreaking to have staff for the last two weeks ask us if they're still going to have a job on Monday," said Charles Nash, owner of Frank & Steins.

When restaurants were allowed to reopen for outdoor dining this summer, the city closed the intersection of MacDonell and Wyndham Streets, allowing patios to nearly triple in size. Restaurant owners said it was a lifeline for their businesses.

"It's been amazing," NV Kitchen and Bar owner Richard Overland said. "It's allowed us to go from a staff of 12 to a staff of 23."

The extended patios could be gone on Monday morning and owners are worried they'll have to layoff as many as 100 employees.

Even as temperatures cool, they said 90 per cent of their customers ask to sit outside.

"Nobody wants to be inside," Overland said.

Guelph Mayor Cam Guthrie has called a special council meeting for Monday where he'll present two motions -- one to extend the dining district to Jan. 1 and another to create a special Christmas market to help restaurants and other local retailers.

"I want people to experience not only Halloween, not only only the Christmas time, but also ringing in New Years Eve within this area," Guthrie said.

But, not everyone is in favour of keeping the road closed into the winter. Some businesses would like to see smaller patios, allowing for traffic flow and parking.

"We just want the street open so everybody will be happy and have some business," said Alex Darhini, owner of Alitt Mare Produce.

Guthrie said he appreciates the concerns, but isn't interested in a compromise. He added his priority is helping the businesses that were forced to close in the spring.

"You have to remember that they were never closed down for three months," he said. "During the provincial lockdown, all the inside dining restaurants, they were forced to close."

The restaurant owners said the early closure could lead to money trouble.

"To shorten what will be a very long and financially hard winter for a lot of us," Nash said.

Guthrie said anyone concerned about a lack of parking can find a spot in nearby parking lots.

The special council meeting is scheduled for Monday at 6 p.m.