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Edmonds business owners split on whether to keep streateries downtown

Restaurants now have to pay $2,000 to keep their outdoor eateries.

EDMONDS, Wash. — Thursday marked the end of an experiment at Salish Sea Brewing.

Workers dismantled the "streatery" they've embraced for more than a year and a half.

The business said the newly imposed $2,000 fee to use the parking spots in front of the pub, combined with a hike in the minimum wage, proved to be too much to absorb.

"We've had people ask how many plates of nachos, how many beers do we have to sell to make up for the fee, and I don't know," said owner Jeff Bennett. "I do know that we're focusing on making our workers the priority, right now. I had pay raises go out to my staff last week."  

Streateries are outdoor eating spaces approved by cities across the country to help restaurants stay in business during the pandemic.

Some cities are starting to phase them out.

Others, like Seattle, plan to keep them around for the rest of the year.

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In Edmonds, Barnett is losing about 20 seats, a third of his total capacity. With that will surely come a loss in revenue.

Then there is the uncertainty of the raging omicron variant.

Barnett would love to keep the outdoor dining, which leaves him with some difficult decisions.

"It's hard because we have quite a few people who are still not comfortable eating indoors," Barnett said. "Our safety concerns are making sure our guests feel comfortable and our staff is safe, but we still have to keep the lights on."

The Edmonds City Council passed the fee last week. It allows restaurants to break the fee down into $500 monthly installments. The streatery program is scheduled to expire at the end of April.

Retailers have complained continuously that the streateries were taking away precious parking spots and favored only restaurants.

Other critics, like Dimitri's Taverna owner Kyle Huffman, said the system was flawed from the start.

His restaurant, which sits outside the downtown core, was denied a streatery permit.

He ended up spending $200,000 to build an all-weather outdoor deck.

Huffman believes the city caters too much to, what he calls "the chosen few" downtown.

"It has driven a huge wedge between a lot of not only citizens and businesses, but also between businesses and businesses," Huffman said.

The tiny Daphne's cocktail bar took advantage of the streatery idea to more than double its capacity, but the owners decided to shut it down because of the divisiveness in town.

Shubert Ho owns three restaurants in downtown Edmonds.

He is paying the fees to keep the facilities operating and is also launching a campaign to get people to visit the city's outdoor establishments.

Apres Edmonds encourages people to patronize 20 participating businesses that will stamp a card throughout the month of January. 

Twenty stamps gets you entered into a drawing for a free pair of skis.

Meantime, business goes on with everyone still trying to figure out the economics of a pandemic.

Jeff Barnett said he hopes he'll be able to reopen his streatery one day soon.

"They are the new thing," said Barnett. "We're going to have to embrace that. We hope the citizens, the council and everybody that lives here can find a workable solution."

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