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Eau Claire City Council Eases Path for Sidewalk Café Seating

Tom Giffey, photos by Andrea Paulseth

SIDEWALK HOAGIES. Folks dine outside Acoustic Café in downtown Eau Claire. City Council just made it more easy for restaurants to serve food outside.
SIDEWALK HOAGIES. Folks dine outside Acoustic Café in downtown Eau Claire. The Eau Claire City Council just made it easier for restaurants to serve food outside.

Eau Claire restaurants can more quickly and easily create outdoor seating areas thanks to an ordinance change recently approved by the Eau Claire City Council. On June 23, the City Council unanimously approved the new rules. Under the old ordinance, the City Council had to approve sidewalk café permits; now city employees will be able to OK them (except in special circumstances, such as prior violations or objections by neighbors).

The new ordinance also will allow sidewalk cafés to extend into the space in front of neighboring businesses, as long as those businesses approve. The change is expected to help more restaurants, particularly in downtown and on Water Street, to both take advantage of the summer weather and adjust to the pandemic, which has led to reduced indoor seating because of social distancing requirements.

Scott Allen, the city’s community development director, said the ordinance change was inspired by what has been done in other Wisconsin cities in recent weeks, including Wausau, where some city streets have even been temporarily shut down to allow more outdoor café seating. Even before the ordinance change was approved, Allen said several restaurants had expressed interest in taking advantage of the opportunity to expand outdoors. To learn more about what the new ordinance means for businesses, visit www.downtowneauclaire.org/ordinances-sidewalk-cafe.