South SLO County cities move to help businesses operate outside

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Like so many local businesses today, the Shell Beach Brewhouse is facing a number of unusual challenges. First, it was a year and a half of construction on Shell Beach Road just outside of the Brewhouse. Then COVID-19 hit, which owner Frank Schiro said led to an 87-day closure of the restaurant and bar.

After a short period of reopening, the state mandated the closure of indoor dining establishments on July 13 in response to surging cases of coronavirus statewide. While many restaurants have transformed their parking lots into outdoor dining spaces, the lot near Shell Beach Brewhouse is too steep for seating, leaving it with just 15 available patio seats outside.

OPEN FOR BUSINESS South SLO County cities, including Grover Beach, are working to help businesses transform parking spaces and streets into outdoor dining areas amid state and county closures related to COVID-19. - PHOTO COURTESY OF EMILY MASON
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF EMILY MASON
  • OPEN FOR BUSINESS South SLO County cities, including Grover Beach, are working to help businesses transform parking spaces and streets into outdoor dining areas amid state and county closures related to COVID-19.
“And this has really changed the game for our businesses,” Schiro said during a Pismo Beach City Council meeting on Aug. 4. “And this topic now becomes one of survival.”



Schiro and several other community members called into the meeting that night to plead with the City Council to do something to help local businesses operate outdoors amid the pandemic. That night, Pismo Beach council members did just that, directing City Manager Jim Lewis to use his administrative authority to transform several parking spaces in downtown Pismo and Shell Beach into parklets where businesses can operate outside.

Roughly 25 parking spaces in downtown Pismo will be closed to vehicles and available for businesses of all kinds to use, Lewis said at the meeting, and he said city staff would begin processing business applications for parklet use on Aug. 5. More outdoor areas will be available to businesses in Shell Beach once construction on Shell Beach Road is completed in two to three weeks.

Other South SLO County cities are also working to make it easier for struggling businesses to provide services outdoors. Arroyo Grande recently opened public portions of the city up to outdoor operations in the Village, where a number of businesses were previously stuck shut down or doing strictly take-out.

On July 27, Grover Beach City Council approved a similar program allowing businesses to use parking lots, sidewalks, and portions of the street for outdoor operations. The council also authorized city staff to use up to $50,000 to help businesses transition to the outdoors, whether businesses are in need of patio spaces, street buffers, or outdoor furniture. Through that program—which is being funded by allocations from the CARES Act, a relief package passed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic—businesses can apply to receive up to $5,000 in matching grant funds from the city of Grover Beach.

To a number of business owners right now, having an outdoor space means staying afloat, according to Jocelyn Brennan, president of the South County Chambers of Commerce. Recent state and county closures left many businesses with no or significantly less space for customers, even those businesses with already existing outdoor space.

“When you lose indoor, you lose revenue,” she told New Times. “Every spot they can add helps.” ∆

—Kasey Bubnash

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