WALNUT CREEK (KPIX 5) – Cities across the Bay Area have looked for imaginative ways to help restaurants during the pandemic. But on one street in Walnut Creek, the effort has raised the ire of other businesses who say they’ve been pushed completely out of sight.
Main Street is a prime retail and restaurant district in downtown Walnut Creek and businesses pay premium rents to be seen here.
Tamara Bartlett, who owns clothing store Deliciouz, feels her business may as well be on the moon.
“As a small specialty boutique on Main Street, I don’t have my front anymore, and my front is everything,” she said. “It’s my marketing. It’s my visibility. It’s you being able to drive by and see a pretty pink shirt in the window.”
It can barely be seen because the restaurant next door, Main Street Kitchen and Bar, built a huge 80-foot long outdoor dining parklet in the street right in front of her shop.
Bartlett said she’s not alone. The parklet also completely obscures the view of Five Little Monkeys toy store from the street.
“My own family would drive down here and be like, ‘We can’t see you, we don’t know where you are,'” said toy store manager Meghan Degoey.
At one point the restaurant even put up solid privacy curtains so nothing was visible. They’ve since taken them down but the restaurant’s manager, Daniel Greenberg, said the parklet’s construction was fully approved and permitted by the city.
Greenberg says the city dictated the style of construction and knew that it would be in front of other businesses.
“I would have to imagine so. They go down this street all the time,” Greenberg told KPIX 5. “If it was just hidden and we just did it under everyone’s nose, I can see that, but that’s not the case. We were very truthful and honest about what we’ve done.”
City of Walnut Creek officials confirm the project was approved but with an assumption that neighboring businesses agreed to it. The businesses said they never agreed to have their storefronts hidden.
Now that they’ve complained, the city has ordered the parklet be reduced by 50 feet, to just the area in front of the restaurant.
“We were relying on the businesses to be able to work with each other to establish what amount of space would be used,” said Collette Hanna, the city’s Economic Development Manager. “We’re intervening based on what was assumed to be fair use of the space, which ended up not being fair use of the space.”
Outdoor dining was prioritized in a rush to save the restaurant industry during the pandemic. Bartlett feels it’s no longer fair to hand city streets over to just one kind of business and said other businesses on Main Street want their chance to recover, as well.
“Right now, it’s not about survival. This is about, how can I expand my business and profit, for free?” said Bartlett.
Meanwhile, Walnut Creek officials are considering whether to allow some outdoor dining areas to become permanent fixtures. Hanna, the Economic Development Manager, said other types of businesses will be consulted in making that decision.