As the weather breaches 70 degrees and Ithacans leave their winter coats and boots at home, Downtown Ithaca restaurants are preparing for the second installation of Aurora Streatery — the closure of Aurora Street’s “Restaurant Row” for outdoor dining.
The closure, which began on April 1, is intended to provide space for local restaurants to expand beyond their buildings — which had limited capacity because of social distancing measures.
Participating businesses include Ithaca Ale House, Luna Inspired Street Food, Mahogany Grill and Simeon’s American Bistro among others
The block’s closure last year provided relief for local businesses in the area that were reeling from pandemic-induced closures and decreased traffic according to Gary Ferguson, executive director of the Downtown Ithaca Alliance,.
“The pandemic is still going on, and the businesses in that area are still struggling to survive,”
Ferguson said. “The idea of doing the same this time around while businesses are still in that pandemic mode is really important.”
While New York State regulations widened restaurant dining capacity to 75 percent, the change did not significantly impact local restaurants, as the six feet distancing regulation limited restaurants to the seating they have available inside. According to Ferguson, the outdoor seating from the Streatery significantly increases restaurants’ chances of meeting their revenue targets.
According to Ferguson, the streatery, which was a product of the pandemic, was very popular with the local community last year, bringing thousands of people to Downtown Ithaca to support local businesses.
“I think that in itself was a nice goal of the project as well, so taken together, it was a great opportunity to help businesses and help the community at large,” Ferguson said.
Dean Zervos, one of the owners of Simeon’s American Bistro, said the initiative has absolutely been effective in increasing business. With 50 to 60 additional seats outside, the restaurant is able to match its pre-pandemic capacity, up from 50 percent when they only offered indoor seating.
While restaurants are eager to take advantage of the increased traffic brought by the reopening of the Streatery, there is still an element of uncertainty because of Ithaca’s tumultuous weather.
However, the recent bout of good weather has encouraged many Ithacans to dine outdoors.
“It’s one of those things that makes our customers feel more comfortable, since we’ll have enough outdoor seating to accommodate them,” Zervos said. “We have a lot of people who are still a little skittish and don’t want to dine inside.”
Sofia Yantorno, a student at Ithaca High School, enjoyed the curbside dining, eating her favorite wings at Luna Inspired Street Food. The sunny weather and outdoor seating made Yantorno more comfortable with eating in the Commons.
Josh Gitman ‘23, who ate a meal outside of Mahogany Grill, agreed, saying it felt safer than eating inside.
“We wouldn’t have eaten here if we had to eat inside,” Gitman said. “You don’t want to get the virus, and if you’re inside you have a high chance of getting it.”
The Aurora Streatery is expected to remain open throughout the summer and fall, as the weather permits.
John Yoon ’23 contributed reporting.