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New trend could help local restaurants stay open

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PIMA COUNTY - A new trend known as the "parklet" is helping restaurants stay open.

Nathan Ares has taken a financial hit during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ares owns several restaurants in town, including Prep & Pastry in midtown and Commoner & Co. on the northeast side.

"As a local business owner, it's been a nightmare," said Ares.

As Tucson and Pima County begin to open back up, plans have started to form.

Pima County Board of Supervisors said restaurants can't exceed 50 percent of their maximum capacity.

However, Supervisor Ally Miller had a different idea last week.

"I am saying we should have that social distancing if they can maintain that," said Miller. "They may end up, like you said, over their 50 percent because they have some big area outside where they can put more than 50 percent of the people while maintaining that social distancing."

Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry replied to Miller.

"I think our view is when you begin to look at these restaurants, it is going to be hard for them to get more than 50 percent but if they can do it, more power to them," said Huckelberry.

Ares said he is taking Pima County's decision. He is thinking outside the box to create what's called a parklet.

"Where there is paved parking on the side, you take that away and build a patio in front of your restaurant so guests can actually sit out there and enjoy your food and whichever ambiance you create," said Ares.

However, that rezoning option is only available to restaurants within Pima County limits.

That means only one of Ares' locations will be able to create a parklet.

"Up at Commoner & Co, our dinner spot, at Sunrise and Kolb, we are planning on doing a little mini parking lot patio," said Ares. "String lights up from the roof and make the guests feel as comfortable as possible."

Ares said the county really thought about local businesses with the occupancy decision.

"It is a game changer. Say you normally sat 100 people inside, and that was your 'nut' to make the profit, but then you go down to 50 percent, your fixed costs still stays the same, no matter what," said Ares. "So now we can turn the lot or the parking lot into a nice inviting patio, then we can get back to your normal 80 or even 100 seats."

The parklet at Commoner & Co. on the northeast side should be available by the end of this week or next week.

Ares hopes the city will let restaurants within Tucson city limits to allow something very similar to this.

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Allie Potter

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