MORGAN HILL (KPIX) — Morgan Hill is feeling the same economic pressures from the pandemic as any other place but this community is showing how much can be accomplished when you embrace change rather than try to resist it.

Morgan Hill is working to make outdoor dining an ongoing attraction. The sidewalks outside restaurants are full of tables that, on some blocks, extend into the street. City government had to ease regulations to make it happen

“With this new norm of ‘the future is outside’ we’ve actually partnered with our community to help our businesses thrive through this pandemic,” Mayor Rich Constantine told KPIX.

But it’s not enough just to drag tables outside so the city is offering $2,500 grants to businesses to pay for upgrades to make the area more inviting. It might be special lighting, new public murals or, in one case, a grove of potted olive trees that turn street parking spaces into a European dining experience.

“When I’m in Europe, that’s what we do, we sit outside,” said resident Valerie Schultz. “And it kind of brings everyone together and the vibrancy of the trees and everything — it’s beautiful.”

The grants are part of a new program called the Place-Branding Partnership Opportunity, funded entirely by city government and donations from the community. The mayor says the city has simply decided to accentuate its positives.

“With the weather as great as it is,” Constantine said, “that’s one of the great strengths of Morgan Hill and our environment in our downtown is outdoor seating so we just multiplied it.”

“So, the whole goal right now is to fight the wind, sun and temperature — on top of everything else!” said J. Gaich, with a laugh.

Gaich and his father Nick, opened their “Craft Roots” vegan restaurant just six months before the pandemic hit. They spent a lot of money fixing up the inside and now they’re doing it again, this time outdoors. What used to be a driveway now holds tables shaded by umbrellas. Nick says the new outdoor additions have improved their sales from a low of 20 percent of normal, up to about 70 percent.

“Which allows us, again, to go from a state of just stabilization and recovery to, hopefully, thinking about renewal and what it means long term for us here in our community,” Gaich said.

And that’s the key: look for longterm solutions. In Morgan Hill, they’re not just trying to hang on while they wait out the pandemic. They’re embracing a new model of al fresco living, placing an all-in bet that the public will actually enjoy it.

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