GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Chilly weather is on its way and Grand Rapids bars and restaurants know it all too well.
“The day after Labor Day, everything kind of came to a screeching halt unfortunately,” said Kyle VanStrien, co-owner Long Road Distillery. “We had to close a few days last week, that was really devastating for us.”
This summer Long Road Distiller and Aperitivo, like most others in the industry, switched to outdoor dining only, hoping to slow the spread of “We’re really grateful to have this,” said VanStrien. “It’s been good for us.”
But now concern is on the table, businesses worried about the change in seasons.
“When it’s cold or rainy, it’s really hard to convince people to come out,” said Amy Ruis, owner Aperitivo.
In November, Aperitivo will open limited indoor seating, but for now is adding heating lamps and a three seasons porch while asking customers to layer up.
Long Road’s plan meanwhile is still in the works.
“It’s looking at, does it make sense to invest in outdoor heater space, what does the law allow in terms of putting up tents or walls or anything like that to block some of the elements, so we’ve been really digging into that sort of stuff to try to find some creative solutions,” said VanStrien.
The City of Grand Rapids discussed the issue Tuesday during its Committee of the Whole meeting.
“We’re going to do the best we can, but it’s still Michigan,” said Lou Canfield, Development Center Manager.
Canfield says a draft is still in the works, but at the September 29 city commission meeting an action item will be presented likely extending the duration of the city’s social zones into the spring while clarifying what is needed and available for colder weather.
If approved, it would take effect immediately.
“We need to define the path for how do you get things like overhead heaters, maybe a fire table that people can sit around for ambiance, things like that,” said Canfield. “So defining that process, defining the process to get a canopy or some kind of tent in place, so we’re looking very closely at everything needed.”
Both the city and businesses hope Grand Rapidians adapt to whatever changes are made just like they do each season.
“I’m envisioning something that will feel a little more like what you experience out West when you get done skiing and you go for a drink,” said Canfield. “I don’t expect the traffic will be as much as it is when you have a lovely summer day, but I do think people are always going to have a hunger to go out and do something outside, out in the community.”
“If they [ customers ] don’t, that would be hard on our staff, so we kind of think if people can make the best of the weather and bundle up a little bit, then, you know, it’s a great time to enjoy the Michigan fall outdoors,” said Ruis.