By Christopher Gomez
As the news of COVID-19 swept the nation, the Little Italy Association of San Diego (LIA) prepared for the inevitable stay at home order that was later announced by California Governor, Gavin Newsom on Thursday, March 19, 2020. The Association immediately sprang into action to support its local businesses by promoting updated hours, curbside pick-up, take-out, and delivery options and encouraging consumers to purchase gift cards.
In June, the stay-at-home order was extended and the LIA made the decision to prepare for the reopening by launching the ‘Ciao Bella!’ campaign which featured ‘Al Fresco’ dining as a way to close city streets, in partnership of the City of San Diego, and allow restaurants to encroach onto India Street for additional dining opportunities under the County Health Directive. The LIA also worked very closely with its more than 150 retailers and restaurants, and 15 hotels and motels to slowly and safely reopen while focusing on the wellbeing of its over 3,000 residents and the wider community.
Working with the City of San Diego, it only took two weeks to receive permits to close down the streets, which allowed nearly 30 restaurants to expand outdoor dining into the streets—helping to mitigate the reduction of indoor seating while creating a 30’ physical distancing promenade, and by June 13th, Little Italy of San Diego became the first neighborhood in San Diego to close streets for open-air dining.
Al Fresco dining popularized, and participating restaurants once again began booking reservations and providing minimal space for walk-in guests.
However, things changed when Governor Newsom announced that indoor dining should be halted, and all restaurants must serve customers outside to minimize risk. Although Al Fresco helped, the outdoor capacity didn’t help restaurants hit their fiscal bottom line. This is when the LIA got even more creative!
By working with the City, the LIA started advocating for parklets (aka pedestrian plazas) for three weeks before they were approved by City Council. The City of San Diego’s Urgency Ordinance allowed permittees authorization to expand their outdoor seating into adjacent parking spaces and continue to provide service outside seven days-a-week. Once approved on July 14, within four days on July 18, the LIA installed several hundred linear feet of barriers for over 25 restaurants.
Today, 33 restaurants have the parklets, creating nearly 25,000 additional square feet to serve patrons outside. Regarded as a shining example in a speech from Mayor Faulconer, the LIA has led the way in San Diego and across the nation due to its adaptation and agility navigating through the constantly changing COVID climate.
— For the latest updates on Little Italy, please visit us at LittleItalySDUpdates.com or follow us on Instagram @LittleItalySD, Twitter @LittleItalySD and Facebook @LittleItalySD. Christopher Gomez has been Little Italy’s district manager since 2000. Reach him at email@example.com.