Two years ago, in the early days of the pandemic, indoor dining was banned. Restaurants grew desperate.
Moving with unprecedented speed, town officials okayed outdoor dining in areas like Church Lane and Railroad Place.
It was such a hit, they allowed it again last summer.
Now it’s back for a third year. And it will continue for at least 2 more after that.
Last week, the Planning & Zoning Commission voted 6-1 in favor of a text amendment that gives even more space to outdoor tables and chairs. The previous allotment was 25% of a restaurant’s indoor space. It’s now 75%.
Restaurants can also use a neighbor’s property, with permission.
The Board of Selectwomen gave their okay too. And rather than go through the process every year, they extended approval through 2024.
Maxx Crowley — president of the Westport Downtown Association — is thrilled.
“Church Lane is a key piece of downtown,” he says, referring to the short road that — closed to traffic — has turned into a street festival. Spotted Horse, Manna Toast and Pink Sumo serve al fresco; bands play, and everyone strolls.
“There’s a real sense of community” when cars are banned, Crowley says. “There’s excitement and life, especially at night.”
And, Crowley notes, it’s not only restaurant owners who benefit. “People sit or walk, they see all the shops, and they want to go in and explore. Walkability is the key to retail.”
Church Lane’s closure will last through November 6.
Saugatuck — Westport’s “other” downtown — is another hot spot for outdoor dining. The Selectwomen approved the continued use of parking spots by Romanacci’s and Tarantino. Two nearby restaurants may also apply.
Outdoor dining is here to stay. It’s one of our town’s newest, and most popular, traditions.
Now all we need is the weather to enjoy it.