Outdoor dining dispute in Golden presages tough adjustments in a post-pandemic Colorado


GOLDEN — Now that the pandemic has moved into a less acute and more manageable phase, and cities and towns in Colorado race to reassemble a pre-COVID life, some are asking whether the way it was needs to necessarily be the way it should be.

Outdoor dining proved a lifeline for restaurants and bars forced to adhere to government COVID-19 restrictions on indoor gatherings, and in Golden, the city’s recent decision to re-open Miner’s Alley to vehicles for the first time in two years — and close it to drinkers and diners — has some crying foul.

“Outdoor dining is a national trend, it’s based on what people want and what businesses need,” said Aimee Valdez, who along with her husband has owned Miners Saloon on Miner’s Alley for a half dozen years. “Why are we the only town that is bucking the trend?”

Golden this month ordered both Miners Saloon and the Golden Moon Speakeasy, which is next door, to pull their chairs and tables out of the city-owned alley after the Labor Day weekend. It feels patently unfair to speakeasy owner Stephen Gould, as restaurants on tourist-heavy Washington Avenue, half a block away, can continue using the public sidewalk for al fresco dining.

“The city is picking winners and losers,” he said.

As in Golden, many Colorado communities face a similar conundrum as they wrestle with how to emerge from a global pandemic and attempt to satisfy people’s deep desires to return to the way things were before the coronavirus swept through the state in early 2020. But habits formed, or fortified, by the pandemic — most notably outdoor dining — are not so easy to turn the page on.

“All of it is a balance and a negotiation,” said Chip, CEO of the Downtown Boulder Partnership, who goes by one name. “There’s been discussions about how do we put the toothpaste back in the tube.”

Next month, the Boulder City Council is scheduled to decide whether to re-open Pearl Street west of the Pearl Street Mall to vehicular traffic more than two years after concrete barriers were put in place, allowing restaurants to pull tables out into the middle of the street.

Many Pearl Street restaurateurs between Ninth and 11th streets are “pretty done” with the closure at this point, Chip said. They worry that the limited access in the last two years has hampered their ability to drum up business, and a slower sales recovery along the two-block stretch compared to other parts of Boulder attests to that.

“It’s hard to access,” Chip said, noting that the sudden establishment of a pedestrian zone where there wasn’t one has left Pearl’s West End feeling a bit like the “Wild West.”

“People weren’t coming down there in the way they were to other parts of the city,” he said.

People mingle in the outdoor seating ...
People mingle in the outdoor seating area at Miners Saloon in Golden on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2022. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)

Denver, Boulder take long view

Even if city leaders open up the West End to traffic, it would hardly mean that Boulder has reversed course on accommodating outdoor dining in the city — it just wants to organize and manage it in a way that doesn’t feel like there’s an emergency afoot.

On Thursday, Boulder will launch its five-year Outdoor Dining Pilot Program, putting an end to a temporary outdoor dining expansion program that was put in place early in the pandemic. The new system allows restaurants, brewpubs, taverns, wineries and distilleries that have available space within 150 feet of their entrances to continue offering outdoor dining.

The pilot program, which will run through Oct. 31, 2027, will issue permits and require “parklets” — a small enclosed seating area alongside a sidewalk — to be installed.

“What the pandemic did is trigger a response from the community to look at our outdoor spaces and see what we could best do with them,” Chip said.

Denver is taking a similar tack with its Temporary Outdoor Dining Program, which will expire at the end of October, to be replaced by the city’s nascent Outdoor Places Program, which will allow businesses to use private and public space for outdoor operations on a more permanent basis starting next year.

Current temporary permit holders will be able to operate as they have until the new rules are in place.

According to Denver’s website, 370 restaurants and bars have participated in the temporary program since May 2020 and more than 70% of restaurants surveyed by the Colorado Restaurant Association expressed interest in having the ability to turn their temporary set-up into long-term space.

Meanwhile, in Arvada, the city’s decision last year to turn several blocks in Olde Town into pedestrian-only zones where diners eat in the street has been popular, said Ryan Stachelski, the city’s director of community and economic development. In a recent survey the city conducted of residents, he said, 90% of respondents gave a thumbs up to the street closures.

“In our survey, our top response to how to invest into Olde Town is to expand the closures,” Stachelski said.

The program, which shuttered three city blocks to vehicle traffic on Olde Wadsworth Boulevard and Grandview Avenue, is set to be in effect for another four years. Not all businesses in Olde Town Arvada are behind the closures, Stalcheski acknowledged, with some concerned about slowed deliveries, blocked alleys and limited parking near their business.

Golden Mayor Laura Weinberg said she understands the position of the owners of Miners Saloon and the Golden Moon Speakeasy wanting outdoor space for their patrons, but she and her colleagues on the City Council have to take a wider view.

Outdoor dining already has been greenlighted in Golden and will remain a warm weather seasonal program for the foreseeable future. But, Weinberg said, seating areas have to be in a reasonable place that doesn’t significantly block the flow of various modes of transportation. Aside from Miner’s Alley, the outdoor seating found throughout downtown Golden is limited to sidewalks and doesn’t block any roads, she said.

“We are making policy that is best for the entire community,” she said. “And that’s not just for businesses but for other users of the streets. The City Council decided that the alley had other uses than just for these two businesses.”

With the Miners Alley Playhouse moving to the old Meyer Hardware building and rechristening itself as the Miners Alley Performing Arts Center, the mayor said, Miner’s Alley could serve as a grand entrance of sorts to a new and improved cultural attraction downtown.

With tables and chairs in the alley, Weinberg said, “it really reduces the welcome to cyclists and pedestrians.”

“With the seating in the middle of the alley, it didn’t allow for the flow of these people,” she said.

People mingle in the outdoor seating ...
People mingle in the outdoor seating area at Miners Saloon in Golden on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2022. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)

“Consumers expect outdoor dining”

But the business owners in Miner’s Alley said they have kept a 5-foot-wide passage clear between their business entrances and the outdoor seating to allow pedestrians and cyclists to pass unimpeded. And they say delivery vehicles have no issues, as both ends of the alley are kept open for trucks to use.



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