It might have seemed unnecessary before COVID-19 to block vehicular traffic along Main Street, so restaurants and bars could expand their al fresco dining services. Now, however, that same outdoor space could be the difference between life and death for Downtown restaurateurs. This is why the Houston City Council approved an economic revitalization initiative called More Space: Main Street, which blocks traffic on Main between Commerce and Rusk.
Two goals of the plan are “creating more outdoor space for dining and drinking” and to “make it safer and more comfortable for patrons.”
Downtown chatted with Scott Repass, owner of Little Dipper (304 Main) to discuss his involvement in the More Space: Main Street movement and what he hopes it accomplishes.
“I got involved right away. When the pandemic hit, I called Bob Eury (president of the Downtown District) and he was very receptive to the idea,” says Repass, who also owns Montrose fixtures Poison Girl, Black Hole, and Antidote.
“But this isn’t just about us,” adds Repass, talking about restaurant, bar and cafe owners.
The idea to expand patio dining quickly evolved after that first phone call, sandwiched between a dire need to support local service industry workers while also ensuring a safe environment for Houstonians who still planned to dine out.
“Locals were bound to—and now are—getting tired and going out. There was a clear need to create a safe space for employees and guests,” says Repass, who sees More Space: Main Street as an important community measure and hopes the initiative might take off in other areas of Houston as well.
Though the pandemic’s effect hasn’t been easy on business owners like Repass, he recalls one recent bright spot outside of the launch of the initiative: The immediate return of guests when Little Dipper reopened.
“These guests are so loyal, they remained in contact through social media and kept track of the bar’s plans, making sure to be here when we reopened.”
Despite having more outdoor seating and witnessing the return of a loyal customer base, Repass knows the pandemic isn’t over, and he’s taking business seriously. “We’re very strict about limiting the number of customers at a time, social distancing and wearing masks.”
According to a November 2020 press release, there are a few important guidelines for Main Street restaurants to follow when expanding their space. These include that patios be enclosed with fencing, and that establishments provide one entrance from the sidewalk and one from the roadway for ADA accessibility.
More Space: Main Street is expected to run through March 2022. It’s a uniquely Downtown answer to a difficult situation, helping small business owners, like Repass, adhere to important public health and safety measures while also bringing back Downtown’s amazing nightlife.