Sitting outside and soaking up sunshine on a summer day appeals to locals and visitors alike, especially during a crushing pandemic.
The Town of Jackson’s decision to expand places where people can eat outdoors through the use of “parklets” — essentially pockets of sidewalk seating — and adding tables and chairs to public parks is a boon for visitors and locals alike.
This way, restaurants can add tables outdoors, making up for tables lost inside due to physical distancing demands, or diners can pick up takeout and head to a park. Such options offer the tiniest lifeline to brick-and-mortar restaurants struggling to keep employees paid despite the thinnest of margins.
Some downtown merchants have been so consumed by the loss of parking that they seem to have lost sight of the plight of their restaurant neighbors, coping with a crisis of historic proportions. Giving up six parking spaces for now is a small price for a chance to pilot a downtown makeover that might offer some comfort to visitors and locally-owned eateries.
The Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board has presented detailed research on how consumers plan to travel despite the coronavirus. The data shows that travelers are going to choose destinations that show preparedness for dealing with the virus. And those travelers are seeking the Great Outdoors.
Creating options for diners and pedestrians to spread out downtown is a boon. Sure, reconfiguring parking and experimenting with one-way traffic might not go off without a hitch. But town staff are empowered to tweak the plan as needed.
This plan can succeed as long as town staff stay engaged and ready to quickly pivot as people test the new spaces, and downtown retailers realize they benefit from hungry and well-fed restaurant patrons.