Parking spaces become outdoor seating for Apex restaurants

APEX, N.C. (WTVD) -- Salem Street in Apex has several local businesses where workers and owners endured some lean times since the start of the pandemic. Now they're counting on a turnaround fueled by the second Parking to Dining adjustment approved by the Town Council. Similar to one that Apex had last summer, it calls for the temporary conversion of 13 parking spaces to outdoor seating for businesses that sell food and beverages.

One of the first set up for al fresco dining Monday was the Mission Market, where manager Jennifer Schroeder and her staff serve coffee and snacks.

"Everybody's going to be so excited. Everybody loves sitting out there in the summer." she said. "We're putting more tables out there later on this afternoon, hopefully by the end of the week we'll be able to expand our seating by 50 percent."

The Local Ice Cream Shop at the other end of the block is ready to welcome back customers while following physical-distancing guidelines with more than two dozen seats set up outside the business.

Jason Hillman said that before the governor eased some restrictions on the number of customers allowed at shops like his, "they would sit either at the window seat or out here on the curb. We would have some tables and chairs out front, but nothing like this. This is phenomenal."

"Yeah," agreed Schroeder when asked if the curbside seating can help her bottom line, "and just having the outside ones will bring a new sense of 'yay, it's almost over' feeling."

It's a welcome change for her store, where they marked one year of operations last month that include coronavirus-fueled slowdowns.

"We were open for 45 days, then had to shut down. We shut down for a month, then when we reopened nobody was allowed inside. We just had a little service station out there. Take orders, run back, make coffee," she said.

Now, with a shop full of customers, she appreciates the outdoor option.

"Yep, it also helps the businesses who don't have food, so shopping wise they did leave some parking spots available for just retail shops," she said.

There are 13 former parallel parking spaces converted to accommodate seating now, and some owners of stores that don't sell food or drink no longer have parking out front during what town leaders call a temporary arrangement.

"We've had mixed reviews about it," Hillman said. "But a lot of the businesses realized that these tables turn over so often, there's hundreds of people now, gathering outside their stores."

Twenty spaces for three hour parking remain open on Salem Street, so Schroeder considers the arrangement a win for everyone participating in the block's warm weather comeback.

"Come here, get something," she said, 'cruise the street, bring more business to downtown Apex."
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