A new city of Portland initiative aims to help restaurants and bars move service onto streets and sidewalks across the city. But WW's analysis of permits issued for the program shows the benefits are anything but equal.
The Portland Bureau of Transportation launched its Healthy Businesses program on May 28.
PBOT's goal was to help establishments pounded by the pandemic expand onto Portland's sidewalks, parking spaces and even entire roadways.
In normal times, the city charges hundreds of dollars for sidewalk cafe permits, but the Healthy Businesses permits for expansion are free.
Still, of the more than 700 businesses that have applied to participate, less than a dozen are east of 82nd Avenue.
COVID-19 has hit East Portland hard. State figures show neighborhoods east of 82nd have some of the city's highest rates of infection. As bars and restaurants struggle to stay afloat amid social distancing restrictions and high unemployment, outer eastside establishments are also lagging in their ability to offer customers seating outside.
ParkStone Wood Kitchen + Taps at 9921 NE Cascades Parkway is one of the few outer eastside businesses that applied. ParkStone says expanded outdoor seating has been good for business.
PBOT data shows only seven applicants for the new program—including ParkStone—are east of 82nd. Permits are heavily concentrated in downtown Portland, along nightlife destination streets such as Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard and North Mississippi Avenue.
PBOT spokesman Dylan Rivera cites a few reasons for the unequal distribution of the outdoor permits: the expense of building an outdoor seating area, and the wide busy streets and lack of sidewalks east of 82nd. Rivera adds that PBOT is seeking to market the program to businesses run by people of color and has arranged discounted goods and services for them.
WW asked more than a dozen East Portland businesses about the new program and got mixed responses. Some said they have enough outdoor seating already. For others, expansion just doesn't make sense.
Refuge Coffee House in Lents is located near an entrance to Interstate 205 where owner Kimberley Richardson says 20,000 cars zoom past each day. Refuge has a few outdoor tables, but the traffic prevents adding more.
"With the amount of road dirt, we'd have to wipe tables down often," Richardson says. "We'd definitely like it if was possible. We would probably get more business."
Bella's Italian Bakery and Market at 9119 SE Woodstock Blvd. faces similar limitations.
Owner Michelle Vernier says due to Bella's location on a busy corner at 91st Avenue, it's not possible to add more seating beyond her existing two tables.
"Business is down," Vernier says. "If I could block off any of the street for more tables outside, I'd absolutely do it."