Tina Thorpe and Lisa Mele were enjoying lunch in front of Sunny’s American Grill on Main Street in Warrenton last Thursday. In fact, they were enjoying themselves so much, they stayed and talked for two hours. It was a chilly day, but they were coatless and comfortable in their own “bubble.”
Since then, four other “bubbles” – they are transparent, plastic pop-ups big enough to encompass a six-person table and keep those seated at the table warm -- have appeared around Warrenton.
They are the first visible step in a town government initiative dubbed “Warm Up Warrenton” intended to enable businesses to come up with creative ways to thrive this winter; it is a natural extension of the “Roll Out Warrenton” program approved by the town council this summer, said Town Manager Brandie Shaeffer.
A “bubble” was offered to any restaurant in town that wanted one, she said. Based on the positive feedback, more will likely be purchased in the near future, funded by federal CARES Act funds disbursed to the town earlier this year.
Sunny’s manager Jaydee Dauz said that as of Nov. 19, about ten customers had tried the “bubble,” and “they all loved it.” The restaurant has outside heaters for diners, but if the restaurant is able to get more “bubbles,” they may not use the heaters.
“The ‘bubbles’ are just a starting point,” Shaeffer explained. “We’re encouraging businesses to think outside the box.” To that end, last month the town council directed staff to develop a grant program for retail, hospitality and food service businesses, and the program is almost ready to launch. Applications should be open by the end of this week.
The grant program is funded by about $200,000 freed up by CARES Act funds, and the first round of grant distributions – which will mostly likely be capped at $10,000 per business – will go out after Dec. 15, the deadline for applications. A second round of grant disbursements will go out after a second application period.
The money can be used for anything related to adapting services during the pandemic, like improving outdoor dining options – “bubbles” certainly fall into this category, along with outdoor heaters -- and creating touchless ways to purchase goods from shops.
In an expansion of the “Roll Out Warrenton” initiative that began in May, two blocks of Warr…
Mayor Carter Nevill said he hopes the grants will help restaurants in particular create something good in a difficult situation and that diners will be willing to try something new. “Winter is magical. This is an opportunity to embrace a whole different kind of dining,” he said.
Town council member Kevin Carter (Ward 5) urged residents spend their money locally this winter. “Find a way to support local businesses during these difficult months so they are all here in the spring,” he said.
Next month, town council members will decide whether to renew the “Roll Out Warrenton” program, which allowed businesses on Main Street to utilize parking spaces for outdoor dining and other services along with relaxing zoning ordinances so that businesses across town could serve customers outdoors. That program is currently set to expire at the end of the year.
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