There is a new hangout spot in the neighbourhood
›› Mila Czemerys
By now, the COVID-19 pandemic has touched most aspects of our lives and livelihoods. The restaurant industry has definitely felt the weight of our changing reality. It has been hard to hear of our favorite local breakfast spots and dining establishments closing down for good. It’s hard to imagine how it feels for the local small business owners who have put their blood, sweat, and tears into these businesses.
“The past few months have been devastating for the restaurant industry. It’s been a very, very challenging time,” shared Mike Colwill, managing partner at the Fernwood Inn.
On a sunny morning is July, as the finishing touches of their new patio space were being put in place, I caught up with Mike Colwill to discuss patios.
As a response to the hardships the restaurant industry is going through, the City of Victoria has moved quickly to develop a response to support our local economy. The City of Victoria’s Build Back Victoria has several temporary initiatives to support businesses during their reopening and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic by providing public spaces for private use. Spaces on sidewalks, on streets, in parking spaces, and in plazas and parks are temporarily being made available for businesses to expand their footprint to safely conduct commercial activities.
Physical distancing guidelines can result in loss of operational space for businesses including reduced dining, seating, and total indoor capacity. These temporary patio spaces shift restaurant capacity that would have been indoors and moves them outside. This shift will hopefully allow businesses to adjust to this new reality.
Colwill shared how Fernwood’s restaurant owners came together to apply for the temporary patio space now located on Gladstone Avenue between the Fernwood Inn and Little June. The application was through the City of Victoria’s Business Hub and Build Back Victoria. Colwill mentioned, “Coordinating this project with all the restaurants on both sides of the street was great. We put in a communal application. The process was really expedited.” He also shared that, “the City has been wonderful to deal with. They have been quick to respond and quick to act. They have been great.”
Little June and Hearth are sharing the patio space outside their storefronts on Gladstone during the day and Stage is using that patio in the evening. The Fernwood Inn has the patio on their respective side of Gladstone. Mesa Familiar has a patio space in Fernwood Square. There is now temporarily one way traffic through Gladstone Avenue at Fernwood Road. There are also two new bike racks installed to help accommodate increased bicycle traffic.
The patio spaces were installed in late July 2020. Colwill shared, “As soon as we put out the picnic tables, we couldn’t go back to level them fast enough. They were all fully sat at 9:30am.”
Mike expressed his excitement about the initiative, “It lets people experience the Square from a whole new perspective. As someone who has stood around on the road in front of [the Fernwood Inn] for years, I didn’t think it would be as cool to be out here and in the middle of it all. At night it’s awesome with the Belfry, the setting sun, and the lights hanging between the two buildings—it looks super cool.” This space has already started to promote walking traffic and vibrancy in our neighbourhood core. It gives a very European feel.
These patios are planned to be open until the end of September 2020. The Fernwood Inn hopes to reopen their patio space for the summer of 2021 if possible. This being said, Colwill shared, “I’m scared for what the fall will bring for the restaurant industry.”
The six restaurants in Fernwood Village provide over 100 restaurant jobs for local people. The past four months have been a struggle and having this patio space will hopefully help them recover.
Our conversation wrapped up with Mike sharing some final thoughts and gratitude, “Thanks to the neighbourhood for supporting us through all this. We got so many letters and notes of love and support while we were closed. People have been really quick to come back and that’s been awesome. It’s very rewarding. It’s not just been meaningful for us but for our staff as well. We are very thankful to be situated here in Fernwood.”
Photo by Aly Sibley Photography