Update on July 9th: Northern Liberties postponed its July 11th street closure, citing a request to do so from the city’s Office of Transportation, Infrastructure, and Sustainability, as well as concerns about the weather. The new date has yet to be determined.
One of the busiest stretches in Northern Liberties will be closed to car traffic this Saturday afternoon to allow restaurants to expand outdoor dining options, the neighborhood’s business improvement district announced Tuesday, the same day a similar event on East Passyunk Avenue was postponed indefinitely.
The Northern Liberties closure, from noon to 8 p.m., will span the half-mile of North Second Street between Spring Garden Street and Germantown Avenue. About 15 restaurants will set up tables in the street for reservation-only dining. Dubbed Easy Streats, the event is part of the city’s temporary street-closure pilot program, established as a way to expand outdoor dining options for struggling restaurants during the pandemic.
“This is not a festival — but a chance to eat, walk, bike, and spread out safely as you enjoy our neighborhood,” said Kristine Kennedy, executive director of the Northern Liberties BID, which helped coordinate the street closure with the city.
The Northern Liberties event falls about a month before the neighborhood’s annual street festival would have taken place. It also would have overlapped with East Passyunk’s Open the Avenue, a similar street-closure event scheduled for July 10-12.
The East Passyunk event was postponed out of concern for the well-being of all those in attendance, according to a representative for the East Passyunk Business Improvement District. The announcement came Tuesday afternoon, after a 10 a.m. Zoom call in which Adam Leiter, executive director of Passyunk’s BID, and businesses discussed issues raised by employees and neighborhood residents.
“For the past four or five days, we were specifically looking at a multitude of factors, and it was becoming increasingly clear that postponing at this time was the right call to make,” Leiter said Wednesday. “We’re still looking forward to implementing this pilot program once we can reschedule, but ultimately we need to take into consideration everything from guidance from the city to public health numbers.”
“There were concerns about execution,” said Marlo Dilks, who owns P’unk Burger and was on the call. She said the event suffered from bad timing, coming off a holiday weekend that saw mask-less crowding at the Jersey Shore while coronavirus cases are spiking in several parts of the country.
Dilks, who also owns SliCE Pizza shops, said Leiter asked her if the weekend’s business would make or break her business. “You have to look at the long haul,” Dilks said. “Anything that the Avenue thinks is for the greater good, I will support.”
Dilks may have been in a better position for the last-minute postponement than some neighboring businesses because she hadn’t invested in extra staffing or seating for the weekend. She also has a delivery business, which is more easily adapted to a shutdown than a fine-dining outfit.
On Tuesday night, chef Nick Elmi, who owns Laurel and ITV on the Avenue, posted a message on his business’ Instagram accounts that expressed a mix of disappointment, understanding, and frustration.
“To be preparing to open for indoor dining at 50% capacity then being told we can’t three days before, then being told to prepare for having outdoor dining (finally) then 6 days later being told no has a tremendous cost for small restaurants,” Elmi wrote. “I completely understand that this situation is constantly changing, but if we had strong leadership from the local to the federal level we all wouldn’t be where we are today.”
The initial announcement of Open on the Avenue said visitors would “see dozens of award-winning restaurants, bars, local businesses and shops taking over socially distanced outdoor spaces for a 48-hour period, to bring a flair of Europe to the streets of Philadelphia,” a description reminiscent of a typical summer street festival. (The avenue usually hosts one in late July.) Masks would be mandatory, organizers said, and traffic and safety ambassadors would be stationed throughout the event to assist people and remind them to “mask up” and be mindful of social distancing.
The premise of the East Passyunk event drew a mix of excitement and skepticism on social media, with some people lauding extra support for businesses and others decrying the potential to add to rising coronavirus cases.
Organizers of Easy Streats, shorter in length and exclusively focused on restaurants, made a more pronounced effort to demarcate the one-afternoon event from a festival. On the Northern Liberties BID website, an info page noted the event is “NOT the 2nd St Festival. There are no vendors, no tents, no bands on stages, no food trucks. The only thing we’re doing is shutting down vehicular traffic and allowing restaurants to add tables for the day.” Its reservation-only policy is meant to prevent lines from forming.
Another item on the event’s FAQ page asks the question, “Will you do it again?”
The answer: “Maybe. We’ll see how this one goes. It largely depends on people behaving, wearing masks, and not making a mess of things.”