Montgomery County’s Department of Transportation is working with some business owners along Bethesda Avenue to free up additional space on the street for customers to wait outside.
Quartermaine Coffee Roasters and Bethesda Bagels, which are neighbors in Bethesda Row, requested the authority to block off parts of the street to give customers more space to wait, DOT spokeswoman Hannah Henn wrote in an email to Bethesda Beat on Friday.
Under the county’s Shared Streets Initiative, launched at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of streets have been closed off. The closures allow additional tables and chairs to accommodate outdoor seating for restaurants.
This includes Bethesda’s “Streetery,” a series of closures on portions of streets in Woodmont Triangle and Woodmont Avenue in Bethesda Row. There are similar street closures in other downtown areas, such as in Rockville and Silver Spring.
County residents can also request a “Shared Streets Block Permit” from the county, in which a portion of a street is closed to local traffic at certain times.
For the businesses on Bethesda Avenue, the county DOT is working with the landlord, Federal Realty Investment Trust, to allow parking spaces to be used for other purposes, Chief of Traffic Engineering and Operations Michael Paylor said in an interview last week.
“The Department of Transportation is allowing them to occupy the parking area in front of their business, and they’re putting in tables and chairs and some kind of barrier, whether it’s cones or something like that. So, we were giving them permission to do that,” he said.
Paylor said the businesses asked for the additional space to separate people waiting for their food and foot traffic on the sidewalk.
At Quartermaine, co-owner Carolyn Weinberg said last week that because of the pandemic, customers have to wait outside for their orders. That can create crowding when combined with lines that form outside other stores on the street.
Weekends are “insane” when it comes to foot traffic on the street, she said. The extra space is needed to better maintain social distancing.
“Right now, people are waiting on the sidewalk and people are walking on the sidewalk, which isn’t good,” she said.
Weinberg said she has noticed the crowding since July, about a month after businesses in the county were allowed to reopen at limited indoor capacity.
“As people are getting tired of getting [takeout] in their homes, people are starting to get out,” she said.
Weinberg said she thinks the Streetery has been successful, but she doesn’t think it’s realistic for Bethesda Avenue to be closed to through traffic. She said she might add a few seats outside.
At Bethesda Bagels, customers also end up waiting outside for their orders, owner Steve Fleishman said. More than half of the orders have been online during the pandemic, he said.
“It’s still tough on the busier days, like Friday, Saturday and Sunday, where we have to tell them, because we only allow one at a time in the store, that they have to wait outside for their order,” he said.
Fleishman said he doesn’t see the addition of more outdoor space as a major change since Bethesda Bagels has never offered sit-down service. But he worries how business will be during the winter.
“I’m a little concerned coming into the colder months what’s gonna happen. But we’ll adapt and work through this,” he said.
Dan Schere can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org