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Kevin Murphy, who has been in the hospitality trade for decades, has never seen anything like the challenge the industry is facing now.
And to help meet those challenges, he's looking for Charlottetown city council to give bar and restaurant owners the room to reopen safely, even if that means closing a street or giving up a sidewalk.
"We're dealing with an unprecedented, once-in-a-lifetime situation. If the city can't get their head around it, that's too bad," said Murphy, co-owner of the Murphy Hospitality Group, which owns the Gahan House on Charlottetown’s Sydney Street as well as Gahan Houses in Halifax and New Brunswick and other bars and restaurants.
"We are hopeful, and we think they are listening, that they will see this is a small thing to do in this difficult year."
His request to the City of Charlottetown to close a portion of Sydney Street to traffic is nothing new. But with COVID-19 killing business, the demand for bars and restaurants to add more patio space and increase outdoor capacity has never been more pressing.
P.E.I.’s bars and restaurants were originally scheduled to reopen on June 12, but recently the province moved that date up to June 1. Murphy said a formal proposal to close the street to traffic has been sent to the city. With dining rooms expected to reopen at reduced capacity, adding more patio space is a way to regain some of that lost capacity while maintaining physical distancing, Murphy said. He also wants to see the city give more patio permits for businesses seeking them.
"The city (of Charlottetown) is being driven by its business community, the vibrancy of it. Don't take it for granted," he said.
Currently, the only street that is blocked off to traffic for the season (as of May 1) is a portion of Richmond Street, known as Victoria Row. It is located one block north of Sydney Street, and Murphy owns Fishbones Oyster Bar and Seafood Grill on Victoria Row.
With Sydney Street, the proposed idea is to leave it open in the morning to traffic so supplies can be dropped off to businesses on Victoria Row and then closed in the afternoon and evening for outside customers and live music. With several events cancelled this summer, Murphy said closing the street would give the city another destination spot for Islanders taking a staycation.
"We're pushing now how do we get the Confederation Bridge open. There's just so many things restricting us to even have any kind of resemblance of a normal summer," he said.
In terms of plans for what business will look like when his P.E.I. bars and restaurants reopen, Murphy said he's waiting for the results of a presentation by the Canadian Restaurants and Food Services Association to the province on what is a reasonable protocol.
Charlottetown Coun. Greg Rivard (Ward 7) says the city previously received a request by the Murphy Hospitality Group to close Sydney Street for the summer.
Rivard said the city and the Charlottetown Area Development Corporation (CADC) are also reviewing the area around Sydney Street to find ways to make changes that would better serve the public. Rivard said the review won't be completed by June 1, but the matter of closing a city street could be brought before city council for a quicker response.
Rivard is committed to helping businesses recover, but in this case, he wants to be reassured that the city's fire department and protective services are OK with access if the street is closed and patios are expanded further onto sidewalks.
"I love the idea, but I'd hate to do it at the expense of a safety matter," he said.
The Halifax Regional Municipality hasn't set a date for restaurants and bars to reopen to indoor dining, but the prospects of closing some streets and expanding patios has already been proposed by restaurants and business associations, said HRM District 7 Coun. Waye Mason.
Some of the options include Argyle Street as well as Agricola Street in the north end and Portland Street in Dartmouth.
Mason supports closing some streets and expanding patios as businesses recover from the financial impact of COVID-19. With more people staying and working from home, he explained that city streets aren't being used as much anyway.
"A lot of the smaller restaurants aren't going to survive if they don't have additional seating, which we can provide in these side streets. Are we going to close Barrington Street? Are we going to completely close Spring Garden Road? No we're not. But there is the potential to do some stuff on those side streets like Blowers and Agricola and Portland Street, and make that happen there," he said.
The city of St. John's is also considering options for businesses, such as expanding patio space and closing some streets to traffic.
For Murphy, June 1 and getting the economy back on track can't come soon enough.
"We've got to get back to business sooner or later. Because the devestation that's happening in the economy has become very serious. Every week you let it go, it gets worse."
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