This weekend, a winter storm barreled through the Puget Sound region, dumping more than 12 inches of snow in Seattle. For restaurants and bars, that meant slower business on what they hoped would be a lucrative Valentine’s Day weekend. But perhaps even more disruptive in the longer term was the destruction of outdoor dining structures that buckled under the elements.
Peddler Brewing in Ballard — a seven-year-old hangout for cyclists known for its small batch ales — was one of several neighborhood spots that found tents and canopies completely collapsed over the weekend. Co-owner Haley Keller tells Eater Seattle the tally to rebuild (replacing the tent framing, A/V, and a projector screen) would likely be around $ 5,000. But beyond the money issue, having to deal with yet one more challenge in what’s seemingly been a nonstop gauntlet was stressful. “I am so mentally and emotionally exhausted from everything this past year has thrown at us,” wrote Keller on the brewery’s Facebook post.
Matt Lutton, marketing manager of fellow Ballard beer destination Reuben’s, says the brewery was in the middle of a patio expansion before the storm took out a number of tents, but the team “literally dug ourselves out” and should now be back in business. And though Nathan Yagi-Stanton — general manager of Fremont Mexican restaurant El Camino — avoided the worst of the storm by bringing in some outdoor structures, he still sympathizes with neighbors for the “double whammy” of weather problems paired with “the difficulties operating under the pandemic during a historically slow time of the year.”
The full severity of the storm took some by surprise, as a few early forecasts had predicted only about half the eventual snow totals, and some held out hope that there wouldn’t be much accumulation at all. But the potential for widespread problems had been a concern throughout the week. And, on February 10, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) issued an advisory to area businesses about clearing streets of furniture, unbolted fencing, canopies, heaters, barricades, and signs to make room for plows ahead of the storm.
Outdoor seating had grown more prevalent over the past seven months. Ever since Seattle cut some of the red tape behind street and sidewalk permits for restaurants last summer, al fresco dining seemed like a more viable (and potentially safer) avenue to serve diners onsite during the pandemic. Even as the colder months set in, many restaurants doubled down, especially since indoor dining was banned for most of November, December, and January. Others, like Peddler, already had the tents set up for years.
But the associated costs — such as heat lamps, durable frames, and other amenities for winterization — can be prohibitive for businesses that are already likely operating at a loss. A single bad weekend of sales is one setback. Tack on thousands in repair bills, plus lower business during the rebuilding process, and the impact from a snowy weekend in Seattle looks like it might linger for awhile.