Restaurants and some local officials are interested in ways to make some of the city’s temporary outdoor dining spaces into permanent features. Photo by Clara Harter

To help local businesses adapt to the changing times presented by COVID, Santa Monica city leaders rolled out a number of programs earlier in the pandemic that have become so popular councilmembers could soon make the changes permanent.

Initiatives like al fresco dining first launched in the Fall to allow Westside businesses an opportunity to convert parking and sidewalk spaces into outdoor dining areas to recreate a communal experience in a safe manner. A few weeks prior, Santa Monica Travel & Tourism created the Santa Monica Shines COVID-19 Assurance Program, which helped businesses earn a Santa Monica Shines Assurance Seal and boast a COVID-free environment.

The Assurance Program has also provided businesses and job seekers with new resources to navigate the changed business environment that has resulted since the onset of COVID-19, according to Economic Development Manager Jennifer Taylor, who took some time last Tuesday to provide an update on the unique programs occurring throughout the city.

To date, 130 businesses have registered for the Santa Monica Shines program and 29 Shines Seals have been awarded, Taylor said as she detailed how the Shines program has been guided by the Economic Recovery Task Force communications as well as local Businesses Improvement Districts, Santa Monica Pier Corporation, Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce and Santa Monica Travel & Tourism. And thanks to the various partnerships, tools have been developed to inform residents what’s open for curbside pickup, delivery or takeout.

In regards to restaurants, the city and local economic organizations have been doing a lot to help facilitate safe outdoor operations, whether it be on private property, public sidewalks or through the use of parklets, Taylor said, adding a big shout-out is in order for Downtown Santa Monica Inc. since they took the lead in identifying the safety materials for the temporary parklets. “We were really pleased to basically work in partnership with them to expand this citywide,” so parklets can now be seen on the side streets of Lincoln, Montana and Main Street.

The al fresco dining trend has only continued to increase in popularity around town, which really helps to activate the district. “It’s really fun to see how all of the businesses are utilizing the areas of their business to personalize them and really drive activity,” Taylor said. In fact, the Main Street Merchants Association recently conducted a survey to gauge if the parklet and al fresco programs have helped Main Street and the answer was overwhelmingly yes. They asked a second question about whether the city should keep the new parklets — and again the answer was an overwhelming yes.

With so much interest throughout the city in outdoor dining options, Taylor said economic stakeholders in the city will continue eagerly working to leverage city assets to support businesses so that they can stay afloat.

“As mentioned earlier, we definitely anticipate the need to formalize a permanent part of the (outdoor dining) program given that these parklets have absolutely saved dozens of businesses,” Peter James added during last week’s update while he shared staff is likely to bring a formal proposal to council in the near future.

But with the holiday season approaching, Taylor said the focus will shift to reminding residents that now is the time to buy local.

“Buying local makes a huge difference in our community, helping to generate much-needed revenue to support our schools, parks and essential City services,” Taylor previously said. “Our local businesses need our support now more than ever,” so buy local, stay safe and make a difference.