City of Duluth Works to Make Outdoor Seating, Liquor Licenses Easier for Bars and Restaurants

Some businesses are taking advantage of waived permit fees, while others must continue relying on takeout and curbside.

DULUTH, Minn.- Duluth city officials are making changes to policies and processes to allow greater flexibility for bars and restaurants who may not be outfitted to continue operating without dine-in customers.

“Just like the city is struggling with the financial impact of this public health emergency, we know that our local businesses are struggling with this public health emergency,” said 2nd District City Councilor Joel Sipress.

Governor Tim Walz announced last week that bars and restaurants statewide can open June 1st with only outdoor seating and no more than 50 people social distanced.

This has left many businesses wondering how they will accommodate.

The Duluth City Council has already approved a proposal from the city which will make it easier for business owners to get permits to make spaces for outdoor seating around their locations.

“We, for example, waived fees for permits to use sidewalks, we waived fees for applying for what’s known as a parklet–when you take an on-street parking spot and turn it into, like, a parking area,” Sipress said.

In addition to waiving the $150 parklet permit fee and $166 sidewalk use permit fee and streamlining the applications, council will also vote this Tuesday to reduce the fee for renewing liquor licenses for the coming year by 20%.

Officials will continue, Sipress said, to work with businesses to see other ways they can help.

“We’ve been going through and looking for ways to make it less expensive and easier for businesses to get permission to operate in ways that are consistent with out state public health directives,” said the Councilor.

Some business owners are pleased with the assistance. “Anything that the city can do to help small businesses out is a positive for me,” Mike Maxim, owner of Dubh Linn Irish Brew Pub said.

But work on Superior Street downtown makes sidewalks and parking spaces unusable for outdoor seating. “I think that the Superior Street reconstruction with the COVID combination is kind a of a challenge, for sure,” Maxim said.

So businesses like Dubh Linn will have to continue relying on takeout and delivery, and liquor sales out their back alley entrance–making the reduced liquor license renewal fee even more helpful.

“Anything to help us keep costs down goes a long way in helping us survive,” he said. “We’re really leaning on delivery and growler sales and I think that, that’ll be our main focus through October to really try to kind of just keep the doors open and kind of plug along slowly.”

Meanwhile, other businesses in the city are taking advantage of being able to expand their seating for free.

“So far were going to have tables out back on our current patio,” said Jake Abel, “we’ll have tables out front and then we’re planning also to have tables in our parking lot off to the side as well.”

Burrito Union in Hillside will go from having just 12 tables to having enough to seat the 50 person maximum. This, General Manager Abel said, will also allow them to bring back their whole menu and their whole staff.

“We’ll be bringing our staff: servers, front of the house will be back, the bartenders will be back, “he said.

“So it will be great because they have a good connection with our regular customer base and our, kind of our neighborhood that we’re in here so our customers will be excited to see those faces back here.”

It’s nice, Abel said, knowing the city is willing to grant leniency at a time like this. “It feels really good to know that our city is supporting our local businesses here, our local breweries and our local restaurants,” he said.

According to Sipress, city officials are determined to ensure as many businesses as possible can get more traffic, while also ensuring they do so safely.

“It’s absolutely vital that all of us in this community, whether you’re a resident or a business operator, that we all act responsibly and consistent with our state public health directives,” he said.

“But at the same time we want to make sure to make it as easy as possible for our local businesses to do that.”

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