NARRAGANSETT – Restaurants that recently added or expanded space for outdoor dining will continue to be able to utilize those areas despite local zoning laws, a new bill signed into law Monday mandates. Under the recently passed legislation, which was sponsored by local officials Representative Carol Hagan McEntee (D-Dist. 33, South Kingstown, Narragansett) and Senator Alana DiMario (D-Dist. 36, North Kingstown, Narragansett), a moratorium will be imposed on the enforcement of any municipal ordinance or zoning regulation that would penalize any food or food service establishment for modifications or alterations to its business made in order to comply with directives and initiatives from the pandemic.
“As a lawyer, I know what it takes to get outdoor dining permitted in my own town, Narragansett and many other towns,” said Hagan McEntee Monday. “It’s difficult and costly. These small businesses, restaurants and bars have suffered enough during the pandemic. With that, we came up with this moratorium. I’m very proud of this bill. I think this is the new normal. We want to live outside and it’s healthy to be outside.”
The bill signing took place outside the eateries at 909 Boston Neck Road, where local favorites like Meldgie’s Diner, Pelly’s Place and Leo’s Pizza worked together and with local and federal government developed an expansive patio area in front of all three restaurants to serve customers during the pandemic. The event, which was peppered with people enjoying breakfast, lunch or an afternoon drink outside, was attended by Hagan McEntee, DiMario, Governor Dan McKee, Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos, Representative Kathleen Fogarty (D-Dist. 35, South Kingstown), Senator Bridget Valverde (D-Dist. 35, East Greenwich, North Kingstown, South Kingstown, Narragansett), Narragansett Town Manager Jim Tierney, Narragansett Town Council President Jesse Pugh, local restaurant owners, small business officials and more. All who spoke at the bill signing championed the power of grant initiatives and other assistance from the federal, state and local government that allowed small, locally owned restaurants to survive through the pandemic.
“This restaurant was in trouble three months ago,” said Mark Eldridge, Meldgie’s Diner co-owner, who operates two other Meldgie’s locations in Narragansett and Wakefield. “The outdoor dining has really helped. As of this week, we’re posting the largest sales numbers in our entire history…I’ll be forever grateful to our local and federal government. Thank you for your swift and decisive action to keep us alive. You saved this restaurant and the 40 jobs that come with it.”
“With the help from the funds and all the different programs they put together for the restaurants, we were able to get by,” said Pelly’s Place owner Tim Pelliccinnone. “The three of us, Mark, Leo and I, got together. We had the opportunity and we had the space and we didn’t lose parking. Thank you very much.”
McKee also cited the state’s strong vaccination efforts as reason for the economy being able to start back up after the world began to re-emerge in the past two months. With the Delta variant surging locally and across the country, the governor added the state was trying to vaccinate as many eligible people as possible in order to save lives and prevent further restrictions or lockdowns that would affect small business.
“During the pandemic, allowing outdoor dining, like this arrangement you have here, was meant not only to allow restaurant owners to safely serve more customers, but also to support restaurant staff and let business owners recoup some of the losses incurred during the pandemic,” said McKee. “Here we are one year later and it’s been a success. And when something works, and makes sense, you continue it.”
“That is what this legislation is all about - allowing these outdoor seating arrangements to continue so we can support small, locally owned restaurants that have faced numerous challenges since the onset of the pandemic,” he added. “Our business owners, who have adapted under extraordinary circumstances, deserve to see that success carry on and I’m happy to sign this bill into law to make that happen.”
McKee also thanked the local restaurants and said a multi-tiered, small business-friendly package was being prepared for consideration in next year’s budget.
“This legislation is just the beginning, I believe, but it’s an important beginning in terms of continuing our recovery from the pandemic,” he said, speaking of Hagan McEntee and DiMario’s bill.
DiMario concluded by emphasizing the significance of a robust local restaurant scene, and how such thriving small businesses contribute to the wellbeing of the community at large.
“This legislation is just the beginning, I believe, but it’s an important beginning in terms of continuing our recovery from the pandemic.”
“I don’t think after the last year and a half that any of us will ever take for granted again the opportunity to gather with family and friends, be out in public together and share celebrations,” she said. “Our hospitality industry is such a huge part of that. I want to extend my gratitude and say that part of the reason why I wanted to work on this bill was in gratitude for the efforts of the small business owners, the managers and the servers and staff who have made our celebrations and our public life possible for the last year and a half.”
The moratorium will remain in effect until April 1, 2022.