Main Street in downtown Littleton will soon play host to outdoor dining on weekends, but don’t think of it as a street festival.
City officials announced they received approval from the Tri-County Health Department to host “Weekends on Main,” a series of weekends where Main Street will be closed to traffic for several blocks to allow downtown restaurants to expand their seating onto the street.
The idea was first proposed by the Littleton Business Chamber and Historic Downtown Littleton Merchants Association in March. It’s intended to help soften the blow of tight seating capacities imposed on restaurants by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to slow the spread of COVID-19.
But while the scene may resemble a street festival, state rules still prohibit gatherings of more than 10 people, and attendees will be expected to stick with the group they arrived with, said city communications director Kelli Narde at a May 26 city council study session.
“Managing the crowd is the thing I’m most concerned about,” Narde said. “I fear we’ll have a lot of people who want to participate and we won’t be able to accommodate them. Someone asked me if we’re going to have a band — we’re just not there yet.”
Weekends on Main will take place from 3 p.m. on Fridays to 9 p.m. on Sundays. Though the kickoff weekend at press time was expected to begin on June 5 or June 12, a full calendar had not been released.
Restaurant staff will be required to wear face masks. Guests will not be required to wear masks, but they are strongly encouraged, Narde said. Littleton Police officers will be on hand to help maintain social distancing and direct traffic.
Parking will be available on side streets, as well as at Arapahoe Community College, which is allowing free use of its student parking lot. Greg Reinke, who owns Reinke Bros. costume shop, will also allow free parking in the shop’s lot just north of Main Street on Prince Street.
Reservations for participating restaurants are strongly encouraged, Narde said.
The three streets that cross Main Street — Curtice, Nevada and Prince — will all be kept open to allow better access to businesses doing pickup service.
Public Works Director Keith Reester said the city will illuminate the holiday lights in the trees along Main Street to add to the ambiance.
Numerous downtown restaurants have committed to participating in the events, including View House, Smokin’ Fins, The Alley, McKinner’s Pizza Bar, Pho Real, In-Tea, Jake’s Brew Bar, Born to Bake, The Tavern, the Chocolate Therapist and Curds Cheese.
In all, two dozen downtown businesses said they support the idea, said Elizabeth Scofield, the city’s marketing director. Nine businesses — all retailers — said they are opposed to the idea.
Ruth Graham, who owns Ancient Art Healing Center, previously told the Littleton Independent that the merchants in opposition are concerned that the events will cut down on access to their businesses during busy weekend shopping days.
Scofield said the city will provide advertising placards for non-food businesses that will be placed on dining tables. She added that retailers were asked if they wanted to set up outdoor booths during the events, but no retailers said yes, citing fears of shoplifting and the added hassle of moving merchandise in and out of shops.
City Manager Mark Relph said he’s aware of the opposition from retailers, and called the situation frustrating.
“The city is being asked to sort this all out, and not all people are happy,” Relph said. “The city is not in a winning position here. It’s very difficult.”
Because the Historic Downtown Merchants Association doesn’t speak for non-member businesses, the city would be better off negotiating with a more formal downtown entity like a business improvement district, said Mayor Pro Tem Scott Melin.
“It’s absolutely high time for the city to remove itself from this type of role and decision making with downtown merchants,” Melin said. “It’s not appropriate for the city to be refereeing these kinds of disputes. ... We’re asking the merchants if they like or don’t like our plan. It needs to be their plan.”
The city has allocated $100,000 of federal CARES Act funding toward Weekends on Main, according to city data shared at the May 26 study session, coming out of more than $4.4 million the city received as pass-through money from Arapahoe County.
The city will pay to rent tables and chairs, portable toilets, handwashing stations, directional and safety signage and other costs. Restaurants will be responsible for setting up and tearing down seating arrangements.
City Manager Mark Relph said he’s optimistic for the weekend events, which will join similar sidewalk dining events around the Denver metro area.
“An amazing amount of work has gone into this,” Relph said. “I think we’re all excited.”
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