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Towson Chamber of Commerce proposes shutting Pennsylvania Avenue for outdoor dining

A pedestrian crosses West Pennsylvania Avenue with only a couple parked cars on a recent weekday afternoon in Towson.
A pedestrian crosses West Pennsylvania Avenue with only a couple parked cars on a recent weekday afternoon in Towson.(Brian Krista/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

As the food service industry languishes under lockdown orders across the U.S., the Towson Chamber of Commerce is floating the idea to close down streets on weekends to allow them to be used by restaurants for outdoor dining, at a safe distance.

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr.’s administration is considering a proposal to shut down Pennsylvania Avenue in Towson on weekends, allowing several restaurants there to use the additional space to serve customers in the street while dine-in options are still prohibited by the state.

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Baltimore County spokesman Sean Naron said the county is in “preliminary conversation” with the chamber and is exploring how to implement the change in accordance with the state’s phased reopening.

If Pennsylvania Avenue is opened, eight restaurants in the immediate area could fill the street with upward of 100 tables, said Nancy Hafford, executive director of the Towson chamber. Closing the street on Saturdays and Sundays wouldn’t impede traffic to local business offices, she said.

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In the state’s second phase, restaurants and bars would be permitted to reopen with restrictions.

Maryland is in its first phase of reopening now. Gov. Larry Hogan has said he cannot put a timeline on when phases in his Roadmap to Recovery plan will move forward, but that those decisions are predicated on sufficient hospital capacity and supplies of personal protective equipment for medical workers, expanded testing and more robust contact-tracing efforts.

Ryan Attling, manager of C&R Pub, located at 1 W Pennsylvania Ave., reopened his sports pub for food delivery on Grubhub and DoorDash for the first time on May 14, nearly two months after shuttering it after Hogan ordered all restaurants and bars to close in mid-March.

Attling, who received a loan from the federal Paycheck Protection Program, said that allowing businesses to serve customers on Pennsylvania Avenue will help not only bring in revenue, “but more importantly it will help get my people back to providing for their families.”

He added it would be good for the area, too, in providing “some sense of normalcy — whatever that new normal is that we’re taking about.”

With the prospect of outdoor dining, “the big thing is just my employees are ready to get back to work, and the community is asking for it,” Attling said.

Hafford said California cities — and others around the world — have been shutting down streets and setting up dining tables 6 feet apart.

Restaurateurs in Baltimore’s Little Italy and Annapolis also have proposed the closure of streets for outdoor dining.

Hafford said if the repurposing of Pennsylvania Avenue is successful, she’d also like to see Shealy Avenue, where Towson Tavern sits near the Circle East development, or Allegheny Avenue, where farmers markets are held, temporarily closed for restaurant use.

“It’s just baby steps,” Hafford said.

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