By Nancy Tannler

The people of Portland are not ones to crumble in the face of adversity. Small business has been hit hard during this global pandemic, but they are figuring out ways to stay solvent. Now that we are in Phase 2 of reopening Oregon, having their customers return and staying safe is the primary objective.

Many of our small drinking and eating establishments couldn’t comply with the six foot safety regulations indoors nor could retail. In response the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) offered a Healthy Businesses permit as part of the Safe Streets Initiative.

Commissioner Chloe Eudaly oversees PBOT and believes this initiative is helping small businesses make progress. Along with food and drink establishments, the plan considers open-air commerce as well, allowing retail and personal service businesses to have access to the right-of-way.

Some streets have already been converted into outdoor plazas this summer, allowing residents to dine and shop while staying appropriately spaced from one another.

Before COVID-19, Sunnyside resident Zach Katz, began a Facebook page called The Portland Promenade Project. His vision was to turn neighborhood streets into outdoor dining spaces, open-air retail, public plazas and pedestrian promenades.

Katz was inspired by traveling through Europe where outdoor dining and car-free streets are the norm. Other cities like Tampa, Denver, Indianapolis and Vancouver, BC, have copied this layout as they begin to reopen for business.

PBOT began offering permits for businesses to expand onto the sidewalks or streets outside their storefronts at the beginning of June. Their Street Seats program has been going on for several years, but this expedites the process.

The Bureau offers plans of how sections of side streets, curb zones and parking spaces can be used for dining tables and merchandise displays. PBOT also allows some sections of streets to be closed off as long they are not on emergency or public transit routes.

Blake Kusler and Adam Berger, business partners at the newly-opened Montelupo Italian Market, Makers of Fine Pasta at 344 NE 28th Ave., are applying for a temporary plaza permit to close off a small section of NE Flanders at 28th Ave.

Directly across NE Flanders, Epif, a bar and eatery serving vegan South American dishes, would also like a plaza for additional seating for their business. Since reopening a month ago, they have been working on the needed permit.

Kusler said that PBOT has made the process fairly straight-forward. The applications and permits are free and are evaluated case-by-case. Once they are issued, they will be good until November 1, 2020.

As a part of the application process, businesses are required to contact other businesses and neighbors in the immediate area that would be affected by the proposed closure.

Once a permit is acquired, it is a matter of renting barricades, setting them up along with tables, chairs, sanitizing stations and umbrellas and they are ready to go.

South of Montelupo and Epif along SE 28th St., restaurants Beuhlahland, Navarre, La Buca and Paadee are serving customers at their outdoor/sidewalk seating areas. Further down 28th at Ankeny, a plaza has been established where people can enjoy dining in the street.

It is the recommendation of Keith Jones, Director of Friends of the Green Loop, that neighborhood associations become involved to plan plazas too, since residents might see things differently than their neighboring businesses.

A collaboration of business and neighborhood associations would ensure that these plazas are managed well and the potential for them to become a permanent part of our city’s landscape as a possibility once COVID-19 is past.      

Over 300 businesses have applied for a Healthy Business permit. To learn more about them, email PBOTBusinessToolkit@portlandoregon.gov or call 503.823.4026.

View current locations of businesses utilizing Healthy Business permits at bit.ly/SafeStreetsHealthyBusinesses.

Photo: looking north toward SE 28th Ave. along SE Ankeny’s “Rainbow Road” by Gorges Beer Co.