Small business owners remain among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic as we head into the 10th week of the current lockdown. Though the lockdown will continue in Toronto until at least March 8, we are starting to see small glimmers of hope. Governments continue to ready a broad rollout of vaccination clinics, the cold weather has begun to show signs of the coming spring, and today the City of Toronto launched registration for the 2021 CafeTO program to help get restaurants up and running. It’s time to start thinking of summer.
The highly successful CafeTO program was launched in 2020 to allow restaurant owners to occupy space outdoors on City streets or sidewalks. Applications are expedited by the City to maximize participation wherever possible. Outdoor cafes offer restaurants the opportunity to serve more customers with minimal additional overhead cost, making it an ideal boost for an industry incredibly hard hit over the past year. Corridors where cafes are well planned and coordinated also beautify the streets and tend to attract new customers for all retailers.
In 2020, we saw several sidewalk café’s pop up in Willowdale as part of this program. There were also curb lane closures on Yonge in several locations to provide more space for pedestrians, and more temporary parking for curbside pick-ups. Unfortunately, because the area was not organized under a Business Improvement Area (BIA) at the time, it was not eligible for cafes in the curb lanes.
The board of the newly formed Willowdale BIA has been quick to start working on making the program better for our businesses and for our community in 2021. Their volunteers have been working hard with our office to develop a vision that will allow for curb lane cafes as part of a unified presentation, with decorative planters and other features to keep diners safe.
On blocks where no restaurants are located, planters may still be used to widen the pedestrian space and provide better socially distanced walking opportunities similar to last summer. Where pedestrian space is not an issue and there is little demand for cafes, the curb lane would still be used for temporary pick-up parking. Some metered parking on the side streets of Yonge would also be converted under the CurbTO program to pick-up parking to support local businesses on the block.
As the BIA hires a team of staff, this will be one of many new initiatives to improve the Yonge streetscape and make it a beautiful attraction to bring in business and support restaurants and retailers. In the meantime, volunteers will begin reaching out to local business owners in the next few weeks. Anyone looking to get in touch, can reach the BIA board at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For restaurant owners, the first registration window, making implementation possible for May 2021, will remain open until March 26. A second window for a June launch would open afterwards.
For any more information on the CafeTO program, CurbTO program or curb lane cafes, don’t hesitate to reach out to our office.