Eateries in White Rock are pushing for more space for outdoor patios in the seaside community, but are running up against a city council that wants to discourage non-essential visits during the pandemic.
Since indoor dining was banned in B.C. through a public health order on March 29 to reduce the transmission of coronavirus, the struggle for restaurant owners and workers to stay in business has become even harder.
"Everyone is really at their max level of exhaustion, it's stressful, there aren't many answers," said Jennie Silk, general manager and executive chef at Uli's Restaurant, which has operated in the city for decades. It's one of several well-visited restaurants on White Rock's Marine Drive.
Currently Silk is running the restaurant through seven tables on an outdoor patio, but it's futile according to the White Rock Business Improvement Association.
"You can't survive on three to ten tables. The numbers just don't work," said Alex Nixon with the BIA.
The association recently pitched closing one lane of Marine Drive to expand space for patios but it was voted down by city council.
Coun. David Chesney said the idea wasn't feasible because it would increase traffic in the area and make access difficult for emergency vehicles like police cars or ambulances.
City staff estimated it would cost around $50,000 to close the lane and there was no guarantee the project would be completed before the order against indoor dining expires, which could happen sometime in May.
Chesney said council also didn't see how the expanded space would greatly improve service restaurants' like Uli's are able to provide.
"All it would do would add two or three tables more tables in front of the restaurants," he said.
Councillors like Chesney have also been balancing a demand from White Rock's older residents to keep them safe from COVID-19 by limiting crowds — especially people who don't live in the community — from gathering along White Rock's popular waterfront.
"We have triple the national average of senior citizens living in White Rock and I have heard them loud and clear, they don't come down to the waterfront anymore," said Chesney. "They just feel there's too many people."
White Rock's city council will hold a special council meeting on Monday to consider a staff report on ways it can deal with crowds along Marine Drive.
Nixon said that any measures to limit waterfront access would further hurt businesses there and funnel people to other communities that don't have restrictions.
"We don't see how closing down the waterfront and taking the crowds down there and putting them in Crescent Beach or Mud Bay makes our community safer," he said.
Gord Wait, part-owner of Jan's on the Beach Restaurant, said in a statement that before the pandemic, the restaurant employed more than 30 people and now it's just barely staying afloat through grants offered by the federal and provincial governments.
Wait said he was disappointed with council's decision not to expand patios on Marine Drive and doesn't agree with the reasons. He says Marine Drive is often closed to traffic completely for annual events such as the Tour de White Rock bicycle race or infrastructure projects.
Now he hopes his business can hang on long enough until B.C. is able to reduce coronavirus infections so that indoor dining in the province can continue.
"We endure," said the statement.