NORTHAMPTON — News that the city may allow outdoor dining past a Nov. 1 deadline would be welcome at Fitzwilly’s Restaurant and Bar, though one of its owners says it may not matter once cold weather hits.
“I hope they will vote in favor of it — if we do have some warm days we can continue,” said Fred Gohr, who co-owns Fitzwilly’s, the 23 Main St. restaurant that currently has a sizable outdoor dining space under a tent.
But, Gohr added, “In my opinion, it’s unlikely people are going to eat in an open-sided tent in New England in winter.”
Gov. Charlie Baker issued an order last month allowing municipalities the authority to grant restaurants approval to continue outdoor dining for any period up until 60 days after the end of the state of emergency because of the pandemic.
The Northampton License Commission has scheduled a discussion and potential vote to extend the outdoor dining deadline at its meeting on Wednesday over Zoom at 4 p.m. It would allow restaurants to keep tables and chairs on the sidewalk, according to Annie Lesko, the city’s administration, licensing and economic development coordinator. Restaurants with outdoor spaces that were approved before the pandemic do not need permission to continue outdoor dining, but some restaurants got an extension of their premises because of COVID-19, according to Lesko.
“I think what we’re trying to do is extend the timing,” said Brian Campedelli, chairman of the License Commission. “We know restaurants have had a rough go … We’re trying to allow them to do what they can as long as they can.” He added, “Why close down if it’s a warm year? We’ve had years where everyone’s out golfing Jan. 1.”
Fitzwilly’s has several propane heaters under its outdoor tent, but the tent needs to have two sides open, per fire safety rules, Gohr said. “It’s my feeling that once we get past Nov. 1, with two sides of the tent open, the propane heater simply won’t be enough to take the edge off,” he said.
Plus, “once a big snow is forecasted, the tent has to come down,” he said, explaining that with wet snow on top, it could collapse.
Northampton Brewery has some tables on the sidewalk that the restaurant put out to expand its outdoor seating amid COVID-19, Abby Martin the general manager said.
They also have outdoor dining space on their patio, which they don’t need special permission to keep using, as it was part of their restaurant before the pandemic, according to Martin.
“We are planning on prolonging the outdoor dining on the patio for as long as we can. Typically we close it down right after Columbus Day, but we’re actually installing heaters.”
Just how long they stay open depends on the weather, Martin said. “Our hope is to stay open to the first of the year.”
Currently, Spoleto is only serving food outdoors, but that will have to change this winter, said owner Claudio Guerra, who said his space would not be affected by the License Commission vote.
“People are not going to eat outdoors in December. Everyone says they are going to, ‘Oh, I’ll wear a coat,’ the reality is they are not.” He added, “This winter is going to be a challenge. If I could afford it, I would just close the restaurant for the winter — pay my employees and say come back in four months. But I can’t afford to do that.”
Information on joining the Zoom meeting can be found on the city calendar.
Greta Jochem can be reached at [email protected]