On a pleasant Friday evening, Brenda Culver and Linda Wright met up at the Saratoga to enjoy a good meal and to support “Eat in the Streets,” a downtown Terre Haute outdoor dining initiative taking place this weekend.
The goal is to support downtown restaurants at a time when COVID-19 is hurting many small businesses.
And that’s exactly why Culver and Wright chose to dine downtown.
Culver, of Terre Haute, said, “I live on the north side but I came down for this because I want everything to succeed downtown. Everything. I come to every event they have [downtown] if I can possibly.”
Wright, of Clinton, also believes it’s important to support the downtown Terre Haute businesses.
“I think it’s awesome that they are doing this,” she said. “We’ve got to keep these places going.”
Culver believes people concerned about COVID-19 do feel more comfortable dining outside, where there is distancing.
“Eat in the Streets” will continue Saturday.
In mid-August, Connie Wrin, owner of The Verve, created the outdoor dining initiative, and it quickly gained support of other downtown restaurants. It is an extension of individual restaurant outdoor patio areas, but the establishments cannot have an outdoor bar — waitstaff must bring drinks or customers can carry their own drinks outside.
Initially, the expanded outdoor dining, inspired by similar actions in Indianapolis and Bloomington, was canceled before its first scheduled start, Aug. 28, after controversy arose over safety guidelines proposed by the Vigo County Health Department.
Subsequently, the various parties met and developed a “joint document” with guidance and recommendations aimed at limiting COVID spread.
To facilitate the event, two sections of Wabash Avenue are closed until 3 a.m. Sunday: At the corner of Seventh Street to J. Gumbo’s, and at the corner of Fifth Street to Taco & Tequila’s.
Participating establishments include Saratoga; Taco and Tequila’s; Roly Poly; The Verve; Chava’s Mexican Grill; J. Gumbo’s and Crossroads Cafe.
”We encourage people to come out, support local businesses and help keep us alive through this pandemic,” Wrin said. “We have tables six feet apart, we have hand sanitizer. The weather is great. Come out.”
Normally, this weekend would have featured the hugely popular Blues at the Crossroads event, which Wrin canceled out of concerns related to COVID-19. “This is a hard weekend,” she said.
Next door, Crossroads Cafe planned a Shrimp Boil from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday. It also will serve breakfast from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday.
Crossroads and the Verve worked together in their outdoor dining area, with Crossroads providing food and Verve serving drinks.
Libby Waters, owner of Crossroads Cafe, said, “I hope people will come out and take advantage of the picnic tables being outside and being able to be outside. The weather is supposed to be nice.” It might be a little chilly in the morning, but, “That’s what hot coffee is for.”
Back at the Saratoga, Michael and Patricia Hughes of Charleston, Illinois, chose Saratoga — and the outdoor seating — to meet up with family who were coming in from Indianapolis.
Because of COVID-19, they feel safer eating outdoors. “We’re a little nervous,” Michael Hughes said. But they felt comfortable with the outdoor setup and picnic tables on the street.
“This is cool,” Michael Hughes said. “I like it.
As of about 5:30 p.m., outdoor seating at both Saratoga and Taco and Tequilas was filling up fast.
“It’s been great,” said Cathy Azar, who owns Saratoga with husband, George. “We’ve noticed that a lot of our customers like to take advantage of the nice weather and sit outside.”
Lunch “was really busy and tables were full consistently,” Azar said. The restaurant does have a lot of reservations, but open seating as well.
Eat in the Streets continues Saturday, with Saratoga’s hours 4:30 until close — about 10-ish, Azar said.
The SkyGarden parking garage will provide parking for $1 throughout the day Friday and Saturday.
Depending on the success of the event, it could continue additional weekends.
Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow Sue on Twitter @TribStarSue.