Bringing business outside: New program hopes to help struggling San Marcos shops

Business

SAN MARCOS, Texas (KXAN) — The City of San Marcos is trying something new to help struggling businesses attract more customers while also helping them follow all the social distancing rules.

On Tuesday night, City Council passed a temporary parklet program — allowing restaurants and retailers to take their business outside.

“Businesses can create a parklet adjacent to their business. They can use either the sidewalk or parking spaces. They can use up to two parking spaces and there can be up to two parklets per block face,” says Josie Falletta, downtown coordinator for San Marcos.

The concept is based on a similar program passed in 2015, but applicants couldn’t use parklets to generate revenue and the ordinance didn’t apply to retailers.

“They were intended as a method of adding vibrancy to downtown while using under-utilized spaces,” Falletta says.

Falletta says a business owner approached city officials with the idea.

“What do you think about restructuring your existing ordinance so that it’s a temporary parklet that’s longer than a day, less than a year? Something to help us get back on our feet so that we can provide spaced out seating that’s outdoors. It’s visible,” she recalls.

Falletta says the owner of Crafthouse Kitchen & Tap approached San Marcos staff with the idea for a temporary parklet program. (KXAN/Tahera Rahman)

The goal is to encourage more activity downtown as businesses try to recover from shutdowns.

“It was meant to spur economic development because we know in downtown revitalization world when there are people on the streets more people want to be on the streets,” Falletta says.

This is an effect Esther Henk is seeing.

“Usually on a normal day around lunch this place would be packed. We’d be full in here,” she says.

Falletta says more than 170 downtown businesses were hit at the peak of the pandemic.

“That’s over 60% of our businesses that had to either close their doors for a period of time or make a significant change to their staffing and services,” she says.

Right now, restaurants can have temporary cafe seating outside, she says, but the new measure expands to include retailers and gives everybody more space. Wait staff can serve tables in parking spaces and retailers can put up racks on the sidewalk.

They just have to submit their plans for approval.

Falletta says the program also helps accommodate COVID-19 guidelines.

“It’s actually providing a safe way and a safe template for our businesses to reopen as they’re going through these reopening strategies,” she says.

It’s something Henk is willing to try.

“Absolutely fantastic. It’s very European and it’s beautiful outside,” she says.

Businesses participating in San Marcos’ temporary parklet program would have to tear down their parklets by August 15.

Falletta says application information will be posted here once finalized.

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