Jun. 11—If Lisa Parks charted it out, it would immediately be obvious when she installed the parklet outside Brut Wine Bar on 10th Street.
By-the-glass and bottle sales shot up and continue to climb. Most days she's open, old and new customers flock to the tables she's arranged in the semienclosed outdoor seating area. Others, drawn by the activity outside, seem more inclined to turn down the usually sleepy street and venture inside Parks' shop to select a bottle for their home or hotel room.
The chairs in the parklet might slant with the street and sometimes there's a light drizzle falling — Astoria in the spring — but no one seems to mind.
"It's like being in Europe," customers tell her.
Astoria loosened requirements for parklets last year as coronavirus pandemic restrictions cut into the ability of downtown bars and restaurants to serve customers and turn a profit.
The parklet program has stayed a pilot program since the City Council first launched it in 2015. The business owners who have taken advantage of parklets: the pandemic edition have invested sparingly — some barrels as tables here, basic seating there. They aren't sure what will be allowed when the pandemic ends and city leadership reviews — and possibly reconsiders — the program.
But for the summer, at least, the looser rules and the parklets are here to stay.
The lenient parklet policies, as well as relaxed rules on sidewalk seating, were intended to help businesses weather an unprecedented, tough economic situation, said Megan Leatherman, Astoria's community development director.
Even as things open up and tourists flood the city on sunny days and weekends, "there's still an economic hardship," she said, "and I don't see that going away this summer."
Details could change
The details about what might be allowed in parklets could change post-pandemic. Under program guidelines, coverings are supposed to go away when the city ends its emergency declaration, Leatherman noted.
At that time, the entire pilot program also goes back to the City Council for evaluation "and to determine if parklets should continue in downtown Astoria," according to city documents.
Both Parks and Michael Angiletta, the primary owner of Blaylock's Whiskey Bar, where another parklet is located, are waiting for firmer guidelines before they invest more heavily in their parklets.
The components of the Blaylock's parklet are intentionally sparse for now.
"Would I like to make it nicer? You betcha," Angiletta said, "but I need some confidence that it's something we'll be able to continue to do in a sustainable fashion."
In other words: That the city isn't going to come by later and say something isn't allowed.
There are three approved parklets in Astoria, all operated by businesses running out of small spaces that felt cozy pre-pandemic but that struggled to serve customers once indoor seating was restricted or not allowed at all.
One of the parklets, operated by Green Door Cafe on 10th Street, will move down the street to be more directly in front of the business. The new location is above underground water lines, something previously not allowed.
To offer the exception, city staff added new rules later approved by the City Council. The cafe's owners, Wade Padgett and Kendall Padgett-McEuen — and anyone who wants a parklet that goes over city utility lines — must ensure each component of the parklet weighs less than 50 pounds and can be moved by one person in case of an emergency.
For the Green Door Cafe, the additional outdoor seating is crucial. The tiny cafe could not accommodate customers indoors under most of the ever-shifting pandemic guidelines, Padgett-McEuen said.
When the first parklet popped up in 2015 — a parklet outside of the Cargo store on 11th Street that is now under code enforcement proceedings with the city — some people were upset that it took away parking spaces.
As in nearly every other tourist-reliant city on the North Coast, parking — or the perceived lack of it — is an enduring complaint in downtown Astoria.
In 2018, the city and the Astoria Downtown Historic District Association launched a parking study. But months ahead of pandemic shutdowns, the study concluded that though there may be trouble finding parking at certain times of day — during peak restaurant hours, for instance — and in certain pockets of the city, there are plenty of spots to go around.
When the city opened the door to more parklets during the pandemic, at least one person called to complain, City Manager Brett Estes said.
But both the city and the downtown association said they recognized a need to weigh everything in balance. Parklets might take away parking spots, but restaurants and bars needed outdoor options if they were to survive.
Blaylock's Whiskey Bar sits in a strange little intersection off Exchange Street, at the tip of a triangle that includes Bridge & Tunnel Bottleshop and Taproom, a collection of food trucks, and Reach Break Brewing and Reveille Ciderworks. Farther up the road is Fort George Brewery and the Blue Scorcher Bakery & Cafe. It is an area that can quickly fill up with cars and people. The bare-bones parklet in front of Blaylock's takes over a front-row parking spot.
But Angiletta said he has heard zero complaints about parking.
Parks hasn't heard any complaints, either. Brut Wine Bar is in a quieter area, though Merry Time Bar & Grill is right across the street.
Parking questions aside, Estes wonders if, on the other side of the pandemic, people will have become used to seeing parklets, maybe even preferring them for seating. Perhaps, the parklets will have won over people who had doubts.
"I think it's going to be interesting after things really start getting back to normal," he said.