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As counties move along in governor’s Safe Start plan, some communities get creative

Restrictions on businesses and personal activities are starting to ease all around the Puget Sound region. Fourteen counties advanced in the governor’s phased Safe Start plan on Friday. Now, only five counties remain with the toughest restrictions, at Phase 1.

King County graduated to a modified version of Phase 1 — sometimes referred to as 1.5. Its plan includes allowing restaurants to open indoor seating at only 25 percent of capacity. That’s not enough for most to break even. Even the Phase 2 allowance of 50 percent indoor capacity remains extremely challenging for most.  

So, some communities are getting creative.

Bothell’s City Council last week voted unanimouslyin favor of closing down its Main Street, starting June 15, to provide new space for outdoor tables and seating. And they’re allowing restaurants throughout the city to use their parking lots for outdoor dining.

“If it can be used, we wanted to make that space available,” said City Manager Jennifer Phillips, adding that it’s up to individual businesses to work with health authorities to ensure they’re in compliance.

But clearly, the hope is to help small businesses as much as possible. Business owners have to apply for permits, but Philips says permitting fees will be waived under the pilot program, which is to continue through Labor Day. 

“Since the restaurants are going to be down in capacity — to 25 and 50 percent, depending on which county they’re in — they’re obviously going to need less parking,” Phillips said. Bothell straddles both King and Snohomish County, which has advanced to Phase 2 in the governor’s plan.

“So why not utilize that parking and give an opportunity for businesses to put some tables out there and have some additional clientele?”

Leigh Henderson owns Alexa’s Café on Main Street, on the block that’s going to be closed to vehicle traffic. She’s excited about the prospect and ready to invest in some outdoor tables and chairs and umbrellas.

“To make it a very festive place to come,” she said, adding that she hopes the block will become a hub for people as things gradually open up this summer.

It’s still not entirely clear the health department will allow new seating under this plan. A meeting Tuesday should provide clarification. Henderson says all the uncertainty takes its toll. She’s been through a lot in 29 years building her business, including the devastating fire on Main Street that almost reached her café three years ago.

“And I’ve always prided myself on being a really calculated risk taker. But I don’t feel like I’m in control of what’s going to happen next,” Henderson said.   

She’s confident she can meet the requirements for serving outdoors, keeping table group sizes at five or fewer and placing the tables 6 feet apart. And she’s re-training servers, to meet regulations to minimize the number of people in contact with each table.

She says having the new outdoor seating is what will make the prospect of reopening for service realistic, even when King County gets to Phase 2.  

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to