GOSHEN — As Elkhart County waits to see if restaurants and other businesses can open at full capacity, a number of businesses in downtown Goshen plan to expand their outdoor seating to help customers feel safer dining out.
Nine businesses sought approval from the city to offer additional outdoor seating near their building. Adrienne Nesbitt and Gina Leichty with Eyedart Creative Studio first presented the request to the Goshen Board of Works on June 22, saying it was part of a plan to help out the businesses during a time of economic hardship.
“We are starting big and we are looking towards other cities that have done this. As restaurants are reopening at 100 percent, they have to still have social distancing,” Nesbitt said. “Adding some outdoor seating will allow businesses to have additional customers and it allows people to feel safer to eat outside, so we’re hoping that will help bring people back to the downtown.”
The businesses included in the request are Elephant Bar, Constant Spring, The Nut Shoppe, The Electric Brew, Venturi Pizzeria, Common Spirits, Shirley’s Gourmet Popcorn, Olympia Candy Kitchen and Blank Space.
Nesbitt and Leichty noted that it will require restaurants to make an investment in extra tables and chairs, so they hope the investment can pay off by being allowed to run the outdoor seating all summer. If it goes well, they may seek permission to do it again next year.
Board member and Mayor Jeremy Stutsman expressed support for the request but said sidewalk accessibility was a concern. He asked them to bring the request back at Monday’s meeting so the city could go over their plans with them and possibly adjust some things in the meantime.
The board approved the request Monday, with certain conditions. Those include final approval of each business’s plans from the city engineering department as well as requiring the businesses to follow guidelines related to COVID-19.
Restaurants in Indiana could open at full capacity under Stage 5 of the state’s reopening plan, but local government and health officials are waiting to see if Elkhart County will be given an exception and allowed to stay at Stage 4. The county isn’t likely to know until Gov. Eric Holcomb makes an announcement this week.
State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box discussed the possibility with local leaders Monday morning during the Elkhart County Board of Commissioners meeting. Commissioners, mayors, hospital leaders and health officials expressed a hope that the county will be held back.
Commissioner Mike Yoder said Tuesday that they haven’t received any indication from the state yet. Elkhart County Health Officer Dr. Lydia Mertz said she’s hopeful.
“We are still in conversation with the state about moving to Stage 5. I would have to say local officials, including myself, feel it would be unwise to move into a new stage and open things up more when we still have increasing cases and are still a hot spot,” she said. “Dr. Box expressed her support of us in that opinion. In the past, the governor has not let anyone know about his ‘opening up’ plans until his actual address, so we don’t expect word from him until his actual address Wednesday afternoon. I am certainly hoping he will grant us this exception.”