Durango residents who ventured downtown during the past week may have noticed bump-out patios are once again popping up in front of businesses on Main Avenue.
What began as a way for local businesses to serve customers through COVID-19 safety restrictions has seemingly become a lasting part of Durango’s downtown experience. Bump-outs will be allowed downtown through Nov. 1, coinciding with the spring and summer tourism season.
“It was one of those rare benefits of COVID-19, and we realized how important that kind of shared public space is, and how much people just love eating outdoors,” said co-owner of Carver Brewing Co. Claire Carver. “That’s what our customers want so we’re going to make it happen.”
Carver’s calls its bump-out the Front Porch, and will be working on building it in the coming days.
“By next weekend you’ll be able to enjoy a beer on main street,” Carver said.
Dave Woodruff, manager of El Moro Spirits and Tavern, said the unexpected silver lining of the bump-out program is that it allowed businesses to try something new that they otherwise might not have had the courage to do.
“In the last few years that we’ve had the bump-outs, it’s accounted for nearly 30% of our revenue,” Woodruff said. “It’s been great to have an alternative form of seating where we can provide outdoor seating for folks.”
Jenn Kelley, manager at Switchback, said she enjoys the bump-outs, but they can put a strain on staff. Many businesses are having trouble finding staff members, and Kelley says it has a lot to do with the cost of living.
“It’s been positive having bump-outs, yes. But it’s been really hard to staff our restaurants to have those bump-outs,” she said. “It’s really hard to find kitchen staff, because people can’t really afford to live in this town when you make $15 to $20 an hour. Otherwise, I love them, they’re super fun.”
Carver said there have been a number of applications coming in during the past week, and it feels like Durango may be rounding a corner as it relates to the pandemic and the labor shortage.
Similarly, Woodruff said he thinks El Moro is in a good staffing position to handle its bump-out moving forward.
“At this point, I don’t think there will be any impacts on service or hospitality standards that we have set,” he said.
Most businesses downtown that are building bump-outs are restaurants. However, Durango Rug Co. uses bump-outs to display its products and draw in customers.
“We have a lot of different colors and patterns and it makes it very cheerful and colorful out there,” said Durango Rug Co. owner Nadeem Mull. “Having these bump-outs is a good thing, especially since this is a tourist town.”
While having bump-outs inherently means there is less parking, most managers and business owners are not worried about the parking it takes away.
“We’re talking about a fraction of parking downtown. This isn’t going to cannibalize parking downtown,” he said. “Just because you can’t park in front of a restaurant or retail spot that you want to, doesn’t mean there’s no parking available.
“People will park a little further and walk,” Mull said.
However, the city recognizes things are changing on Main Avenue and has launched a campaign to hear from residents about the changes they’d like to see.
“I think what we’re looking at further down the line is potentially seeing a more permanent solution to the bump-outs like elongating the sidewalks,” Woodruff said.
Kelley said she thinks the city should make Durango’s downtown a walking downtown like Pearl Street in Boulder, and build a parking alternative like a parking garage.
Carver said she’s interested in how public transit and downtown bikeability can be improved to cut down on vehicle traffic and parking needs.