Umbrella Square Extended Until September 30

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The block of Ann Arbor Street that is currently closed to traffic will remain closed for an extra month. The block will remain closed until September 30.

“With the Delta variant, the restaurants have noticed that the majority of their seating has been outdoor when there’s an option for it. It’s really been helping them over the last year of restrictions and closures,” Jill Durnen, the Chair of Salty Summer Sounds, which runs in the square, said Monday.

Business owners across the four corners didn’t know if the plan to shut down the block of Ann Arbor Street between Henry Street and Michigan Avenue would work when Saline Main Street brought the idea to council. But desperation brought the restaurant owners behind the idea over the edge.

Since then, the restaurants have often seen their resulting expansion in outdoor dining full night after night. One restaurant owner even told this newspaper earlier this summer that he would be in favor of permanently pedestrianizing the block because it has been such a boon for his business.

“The outside seating has been valuable to Macs and my employees. From May 1 through August 14, we have been able to rebound and are almost at 74 percent of our 2019 revenue. In 2019 the patio was 14.5 percent of our total revenue, and we didn’t count curbside separate from the inside sales because it was such a small portion of our business,” Walter McNeil, of Mac’s Acadian Seafood told City Council Monday evening through a statement that was read live by City Clerk Terri Royal. “In 2021, patio sales are 39.52 percent of our total revenue, with curbside at 10.02 percent, for a total of 49.54 percent.”

Some people are hesitant to eat at indoor sit down restaurants, even after they have been vaccinated. And with cases rising again because of the Delta variant of the Coronavirus, that sudden customer hesitancy is likely to repeat itself.

Janet Dillon, who did not respond to a request for comment, was the only councilor to not vote in favor of extending the square. According to two people at the meeting, Dillon said she didn’t want the extension of the square to interfere with the upcoming Octoberfest celebration.

Holli Andrews, the Director of Saline Main Street, said Tuesday that she was worried that the extension might not happen because of the square being utilized less because of restaurants having to cut back on their hours due to a lack of available staffing.

“I do think that our local decision makers, as well as our patrons and visitors, really are starting to understand … that it’s not the restaurant’s fault, especially with the [Delta] variant, people are leery of eating inside, especially with such close confined areas, with other people,” Andrews said. “I think all of these played a factor.”

Durnen said that live background music will continue to happen on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The big Thursday live concerts will be ending on August 26 as planned, because the budget for the larger concerts is close to being used up, Durnen added.

“From the perspective of the restaurant’s, their numbers are ticking up. If we use last year as any indicator, September could be their best month of the season,” City Manager Colleen O’Toole said, Tuesday.

“We’ve seen some wet weather these last couple of months, so there’s some hope that September will be more moderate weather, that attracts people out.”

Image Credit: City of Saline Twitter

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