Avenue of hope

SJB modifies Third Street for outdoor commerce

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A makeshift patio was built in front of Doña Esther's Restaurant on Third Street in San Juan Bautista so that patrons can enjoy a drink and some food under the state issued ordinance of outdoor dining. (Juan Reyes)

Third Street in downtown San Juan Bautista has gone through a major transformation in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, going from two lanes down to a one-way avenue of hope for local businesses.  

The project, which began June 22, turned the main downtown strip into a one-lane, one-way road that provides outdoor space for businesses and restaurants to operate under the state public health guidelines.

Cara Denny, owner of Daisy’s Saloon & Liquor, said they’ve had to make some adjustments such as additional cleaning, mask wearing and serving food. 

“We weren’t a restaurant before and now we are,” she said. 

The new striping creates a one-way center lane and two-foot boundaries, leaving the remaining space and sidewalk for businesses to use.

Business owners were allowed to expand and utilize space on Third Street for outdoor dining and shopping. The transformation is authorized for six months but it could be extended.

Daisy’s Saloon now features an outdoor bar equipped with a counter and stools that allows patrons to look out into the street.  

“We kind of kept it simple out there just because we do have the big patio,” Denny said.

Denny said now her time goes into preparing food and making sure they have the necessary supplies. The saloon offers sausages from the Corralitos Market and Sausage Company, nachos–standard or loaded with asada and carnitas–gourmet hot dogs and every weekend they try to have a special. Last week’s special was carnitas and this upcoming week is pozole. 

Denny said her goal is to go with a full kitchen, which was inspired by her dad who was a chef and BBQ restaurant owner in Colorado. 

“I kind of wanted to follow along in his footsteps with that,” she said. “It’s always been a goal, it just kind of plunged me into it sooner rather than later.” 

Denny said that customers enjoy the outdoor dining and she said they were lucky to already have a back patio outside to begin with. However, she did mention that she’s had to shell out thousands of dollars from her pocket to pay for two new outdoor bars, along with additional seating and outdoor heaters.

Maria Goularte, manager at Doña Esther’s Restaurant, said it certainly hasn’t been the same for them, especially after having to downsize from 50 tables to just 11 outdoor dining tables.

“That was very difficult but we’re non-stop,” she said. “We have loyal customers that will sit and they’ll wait, 45 minutes to an hour sometimes, for a table.”

Goularte said the new wooden platform on Third Street has been helpful, and the city transforming it into a one-way street is a huge assistance, as well.

“Being a tourist town it’s going to attract them anyway and knowing that we are open, partially open, we still get a lot of business,” she said. “So that’s a good thing. We’re definitely not standing around doing nothing.” 

The businesses are staying busy, yet, they can’t remain fully staffed with all of their employees. Goularte said they’ve had to lay off a couple of servers, bussers and dishwashers.

She’s also worried about the winter time, especially if restaurants are still only limited to outdoor dining.

“I don’t know how we’re going to take care of our customers because if it’s outdoors I have no idea how that’s going to work,” she said.   

Patricia Bains, owner of Mrs. B’s Z Place, doesn’t offer food but she built a wooden platform in front of her building anyway. She said it’s to allow people to hang out while they wait in case the place is at maximum capacity.

She has considered displaying some merchandise outdoors, but she’s still hesitant due to the unpredictable winds and weather. The shop carries vintage inspired fashions, accessories, gifts and collectibles such as original paintings that can cost thousands of dollars. 

Bains said she hasn’t received any funds from the Small Business Association’s Payment Protection Program or any of the stimulus money. She said she still has enough faith in the community that they’ll get through the financial leap.

“We’re hoping for the best and we’re hoping we can stay open with so much uncertainty. It’s hard to know day to day what’s going to happen,” she said. 

Denny said she’s not sure how things will shake out in the end but she has a general idea that there’s been some lost revenue from the limited capacity they can have. She said their hours have been modified and patrons are not staying out late like in the past. 

“We just have to spend more to make less money,” she said.

Denny said now the goal is educating people, informing them and telling them what they have to do in order to remain open. She said she’s doing everything she can even if it means having to provide food and get behind the counter to bartend.

“We’re going to make this work, this is the direction I was going in anyway,” she said. “So we just made it happen.”  

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