Several business owners and managers said Saturday was their busiest night since before the COVID-19 pandemic, after they were allowed to set up tables and chairs in the street of a closed one-block area of downtown Colorado Springs.
"We had around 38 tables with the expanded seating," said Eric Brenner, owner of Red Gravy restaurant. "We had around 260 customers. Basically, it was our best night since Valentine's Day."
An employee at the nearby Colorado Craft restaurant and brewery said the business nearly ran out of food because of the demand for seats.
The Downtown Partnership sponsored the 'Dine Out Downtown' event's trial run from 4 p.m. until 10 p.m. Saturday. The event helps increase the seating capacity of participating restaurants that have reduced indoor seating because of health regulations due to the pandemic.
Red Gravy was one of a half-dozen restaurants taking part in the event.
Anna Wiley, who lives near downtown, was happy to see the event be so successful.
"It was an impressive turnout," she said. "It was nice to see. All the tables were full. It's been harder to get into restaurants because of the limited seating."
Seating was by reservation only, and reservations are intended to help provide indoor seating in case of bad weather.
"The only issue we had was that most of the reservations were for 6 p.m.," Brenner said. "We need more people to reserve tables earlier or later than that. But I'm glad to see this. I've pushed for it since I opened this place five years ago."
Tejon Street, between Colorado and Pikes Peak avenues, was closed for the event. It could spread to other downtown streets if enough businesses want to participate.
One restaurant on that stretch decided against taking part this week, but may do so later.
"We just didn't feel like we could take care of our customers the way we should," a manager said. "And we don't have the staff to handle a big crowd of street diners."
Because street parking wasn't allowed on the block, some business owners said they suspended delivery and curbside service.
"That service has helped us stay in business during the pandemic," Brenner said. "We'll have to find another way to continue it. We're going to use our alley for deliveries."
The event will continue on Fridays between 4 p.m and 10 p.m., and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., through the summer.
Many restaurants await permission from the city to set up tables and chairs on sections of sidewalks that don't interfere with pedestrians, and in alleys as well.
An example of that is in front of the U.S. Olympic Committee building, which has enough open space to allow two restaurants to set up chairs and tables to expand patio seating.