A looming thunderstorm threat didn’t stop people from venturing downtown Friday for the first of the city’s See You on the Patio events.
Every Friday, from 4 to 11 p.m., until Sept. 5, the city is closing Mississaga Street between Front and Peter streets, Peter Street between Mississaga and Colborne streets, and Mississaga Street from West to Andrew streets to allow businesses to expand onto the road in an effort to help them as they cope with COVID-19 restrictions.
“I love it,” said Simon MacRae, co-owner of The Common Stove. “What else is going on down here? You might as well open it up and try it out.”
Friday was the restaurant's first “lobsterfest,” and all of its tables were reserved within a few hours of it being advertised on its website and social media.
Seeing the tables fill up was a welcome sight for MacRae. The Common Stove had barely opened its doors before it was forced to shut them.
“We were open for three glorious weeks and then we had three months of takeout,” MacRae said.
Sharon and Brainerd Paras were checking out The Common Stove for the first time Friday.
“It’s a great idea,” Sharon said of the street closure. “The businesses need the support. It’s been a long haul.”
The couple moved to Orillia eight years ago and they've enjoyed watching the city “come into its own,” especially as it relates to the variety of restaurants and other businesses. It’s also good for residents to have some sense of normalcy, Sharon added.
“We’ve been stuck in the house for a variety of reasons. It’s nice to be outside with other people,” she said.
Darren Gallagher, manager of Brewery Bay Food Company, felt the same. When asked how he felt about the See You on the Patio concept, his first thought was about residents, not business.
“It’s great to have something for the community. We’ve been cooped up in our houses since March. It’s nice to have this sense of community,” he said.
Being able to expand seating onto the street has been a blessing for Melanie Robinson, owner of Eclectic Café.
“Being on a corner with no parking spots, I’m really grateful for the city because I’ve lost about 70 per cent of my revenue stream,” she said.
Weather could affect participation among the public, but it’s a risk Robinson is willing to take.
“With any outdoor patio space, you take that chance. You have to roll the dice,” she said. “It’s sink or swim, and this is us treading water.”
Fred and Lois Larsen joined friends Roy and Nancy Menagh on Friday for drinks at Tre Sorelle. All four were happy to see the city shut down some of the downtown, but they’d like to see it taken a step further.
“We were hoping it would be all summer, seven days a week,” Lois said.
“They should’ve at least taken all day Saturday,” Fred added. “At least then you give people the sense of this being a destination.”
“This is an opportunity for Orillia to be seen as a community that has an open street for the summer,” he said, noting there is plenty of northbound traffic on the highway on a summer weekend. “If even a small percentage of them veer off and come down here, that would make a difference.”
Nancy would like to see musicians be part of the See You on the Patio program.
“Individual musicians could be on the street,” she said. “It’s a huge opportunity for them to make themselves known and have them performing music.”