Planning a future for streatery

COVID-19 has made us all think on our feet. Business owners became more creative in how they served their customers, and city of Madison officials became more accommodating to challenging circumstances. While events were canceled, postponed, and moved outdoors, the city tried to create an easier path for businesses to serve their customers outside. Streatery was born.

Created under an emergency order approved by the Madison Common Council on June 16, 2020, Streatery enabled the city to temporarily allow restaurants, taverns, and other eligible businesses to expand their business footprint onto the public rights-of-way or in privately owned parking facilities if administratively approved by city staff. For eligible businesses, it also included an expanded alcohol license premise.

For many businesses, Streatery is a lifeline. Brian Haltinner, owner of Maduro Cigar Bar in downtown Madison, says it’s the reason he’s still in business. “It was critical to our ability to survive the pandemic restrictions,” he states.

To date, 162 Streatery approvals have been issued for restaurants and bars. If Streatery is allowed to expire next year, the permit process will revert to its original form and restaurants will be charged for the outdoor space they are using. For some, that cost can be a dealbreaker.

Under the normal permitting protocol, businesses located in the downtown area — near the Capitol Square and down State Street — are charged $5.50 per square foot of outdoor space. Businesses in other areas of the city were charged $3 per square foot. Even for small areas holding just a few tables, the annual cost could total thousands of dollars.

However, the city feels the loss of revenue from the waived fees has been worth the benefits of Streatery. “It kept businesses alive, and it gave the community some opportunities to enjoy dining again and return to a sense of normalcy,” explains Meghan Blake-Horst, street vending coordinator for the city of Madison.

Except for complaints about amplified music near housing, Streatery has received mostly positive feedback.

As COVID-19 restrictions ebb and flow with spikes in infections, the city is considering permanently changing the licensing process for sidewalk service. City street vending staff have done surveys, held community meetings, met with business owners, and reached out to every street vending license holder to see how they view the program. “We wanted to get a handle on their reality and not just our assumptions,” says Blake-Horst. “We are constantly meeting about it and are actively working on what our recommendations will be.”

Meeting with the city via Zoom allowed Haltinner to voice his opinion. “We believe the expanded outdoor seating should become permanent. As a community, we should create more cohesive and expanded outdoor seating areas that can welcome people to Madison.”

Licensing and permitting is a process that can get complicated — and quickly. The ultimate shape of the program is still a work in progress, and outreach to the business community will be key to its success, according to Blake-Horst. “We want to make this as business-friendly as possible.”

Click here to sign up for the free IB Ezine — your twice-weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. If you are not already a subscriber to In Business magazine, be sure to sign up for our monthly print edition here.