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'We're not prepared to risk our customers': Portland restaurants hope for extension on outdoor dining permit

The Portland Bureau of Transportation is currently exploring whether or not to extend parking plaza permits for restaurants beyond November 1.

PORTLAND, Ore. — For many restaurant owners, recent rain was a reminder of changes ahead and some unknowns. New outdoor seating they built because of the pandemic will need to be winterized, that is, if the City of Portland extends its free outdoor seating permits beyond next month.

On Northeast Alberta Street, a white tent shelters extended outdoor seating at T.C. O’Leary’s Irish Pub. Owner Tom O'Leary put it up last summer to shade customers. Now, it protects them from the rain. Since reopening, O'Leary has only served customers outside.

“It's working really well,” said O’Leary. “But are we going to survive the winter? That's the big question.”

Like many restaurant owners, O'Leary applied for a free Healthy Business Permit from the City of Portland. The Portland Bureau of Transportation allows permitted restaurants to offer seating in parking spots along the curb in so-called parking plazas. The permits are valid until Nov. 1 but O'Leary said he has no plans to bring customers back inside his restaurant after that.

“We're not prepared to risk our customers, we're not prepared to risk our staff's health indoors,” said O’Leary.

O'Leary hoped the city would extend the parking plaza permits. He's also planning a fundraiser to raise money to afford winterizing outdoor seating areas.

“We’d like to get new awnings and maybe some small, attractive fires in the area,” said O’Leary. “And we're also thinking of a new thing— B.Y.O.B.—Bring your own blanket!”

A few blocks away, rain tents went up Friday night at Jinx on Northeast Killingsworth.

“No one's going to want to sit out in the rain,” said owner, Courtney Hulbert. “We're just trying to figure out anything we can do to basically limp through this and get to the other side.”

Hulbert said outdoor dining accounts for half the business at Jinx. The rest comes from takeout orders. Hulbert also hoped the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) would extend the parking plaza permits beyond Nov. 1, until COVID-19 is no longer an issue.

“It's maybe the only safe way to serve our wonderful customers right now,” she said.

PBOT is asking for the public's feedback on the parking plazas. Participants are invited to text "NEPDX" to 31996. A PBOT spokesperson said the city is currently exploring whether or not they will extend the parking plaza permits beyond Nov. 1. They haven't made a final decision, yet.