Montgomery County, Maryland, will keep streeteries in Bethesda, Silver Spring and Wheaton open at least through Labor Day, the county’s Department of Transportation announced Tuesday.
Streeteries were established during the pandemic to help restaurants by closing off street traffic to create outdoor dining space. They’ve popped up across the area, giving local restaurants a much-needed economic boost.
The Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) said it will extend its Shared Streets program through the summer at least until Labor Day, Sept. 5. The county’s streeteries are located in the downtown areas of Bethesda, Silver Spring and Wheaton.
“Our Streeteries program has helped reduce the transmission of the COVID virus while helping keep our restaurants in business and workers employed,” County Executive Marc Elrich said in a news release.
Restaurants are reacting to the news that the streeteries will be sticking around a bit longer.
“It’s very good news for me,” said Paul Ofwono, owner of the Hakuna Matata Grill located near downtown Wheaton on Price Avenue, told WTOP’s Mike Murillo.
Ofwono said the outdoor dining concept has actually brought in more customers, as diners from multiple restaurants mingle and discuss the different dishes from different restaurants they are enjoying together.
“Someone can get a plate from Hakuna Matata and sit with a colleague that is getting a plate from the Limerick Pub and have a discussion about the food,” Ofwono said.
Ofwono said he would like to see the streetery become a permanent thing.
But not all restaurants are happy to see the open air eating area stick around.
“These streeteries are really disruptive to a restaurant’s ebb and flow,” said Mark Bucher, owner of Medium Rare in Bethesda. His restaurant is on the Fairmont Avenue side street near the streetery.
Bucher said that the streetery has inundated side streets with traffic, eliminated parking and made it hard for delivery drivers to pick up orders.
“As a result, a large amount of these delivery orders for these restaurants up against a streetery get canceled and the restaurant often foots the bill for it,” Bucher said.
He also said outdoor spots added at the beginning of the pandemic were lost because the streetery was set up down the street, in a location, he said, that is not beneficial to business.
The county’s Regional Services Centers have been collecting feedback on the program and said the program has been popular with businesses and residents.
“In addition to being a popular destination for outdoor dining, streeteries have contributed to people’s health and well-being by supporting walking, biking and spending time outdoors,” said MCDOT Director Chris Conklin.
Kathie Durbin, director of the Alcohol Beverage Services, said streeteries also have a variety of business models.
“For instance, some have extended cafes with alcohol service within that area and others allow open seating with a designated area to eat and drink,” she said in the news release. “Overall, the streeteries have been very positive. Businesses have been doing a good job developing alcohol policies to keep customers safe, we have not experienced a lot of violations.”
Residents who want to offer their feedback on a local Shared Streets program can call 311 and ask to be connected to the Regional Services Office for their area.
WTOP’s Mike Murillo contributed to this story.