On the agenda for a December 9th zoning hearing in West Conshohocken is an application from Conshy Girls Holdings, Inc., which seeks zoning relief to allow permanent outdoor dining in the rear of Gypsy Saloon’s property. Conshy Girls Holdings owns Gypsy Saloon.
The specific zoning relief involves allowing the use of the rear and side yard setbacks (Article VI, Section 113-33.3F) and a provision relating to parking (Article VI, Section 113-33.3J). You can view the zoning notice here.
Since the beginnings of the pandemic, West Conshohocken’s Borough Council has passed a series of temporary resolutions to permit expanded outdoor dining for all of the borough’s restaurants. Gypsy Saloon has always utilized a small number of tables on the sidewalk along Ford Street, but for the first time was able to utilize the rear of the property to meet social distancing requirements and other guidance from government agencies. The temporarily resolutions were also was needed to meet the demand for outdoor dining from customers who desired to dine out under the safest conditions possible.
According to Gypsy Saloon’s owners, during the pandemic outdoor dining has enabled the business to survive and in its application stressed that changing marketing conditions make outdoor dining a necessity. According to the ownership, outdoor dining has grown to be a significant portion of the business
This contention is supported in the results of a survey of restaurant owners by the National Restaurant Association that reveals the important role outdoor dining has had during the pandemic. In an article on the association’s website titled “Customer demand for outdoor dining rose due to the delta variant” it states:
Outdoor dining represents a significant proportion of business for restaurants that offer it. Overall, 35% of operators that offer outdoor seating say it accounts for more than 40% of their average daily sales. Fifteen percent of operators say it represents more than 70% of their daily sales.
Outdoor dining is even more important to the fullservice segment [Gypsy Saloon is a full-service restaurant]. Forty-one percent of fullservice operators that offer outdoor seating say it accounts for more than 40% of their average daily sales. Sixteen percent of fullservice operators say it represents more than 70% of their daily sales.
On the consumer side, expanded outdoor dining options have proved popular. MoreThanTheCurve.com conducted a survey (results) in the early summer of 2021 when West Conshohocken’s borough council was considering extending the resolution to allow expanded outdoor dining for another month. Just over 86% of the respondents favored allowing it to continue.
West Conshohocken only has six restaurants (seven if you count Wawa) and of those only four are locally-owned/non-franchise restaurants (Gypsy Saloon, Baggataway Tavern, Victorino’s, and Jasper’s WestSide). Jasper’s WestSide, which does not have space for outdoor dining, has been closed for most of the pandemic and Baggataway Tavern recently decided to close for several weeks (with plans to reopen early in the New Year) due to the labor shortage. The impact of the pandemic has closed, at least temporarily, half of the borough’s local restaurants.
Communities across the country have passed laws or are exploring ways to continue to support its restaurants by easing restrictions on outdoor dining.
The City of Philadelphia recently passed a bill to allow restaurants in certain sections of the city to continue to operate the expanded outdoor dining options that became permissible on a temporary basis during the pandemic.
In a December 7th article about the new law in Philadelphia, 6ABC Action News quoted a restaurant operator in the city on concerns over the new variant that is spreading across the country.
“With the new variant coming out, people are getting nervous again and there are scared to eat inside, so to be able to have all the outdoor dining as much as possible will help keep businesses going,” said Dana Canalichio, director of operations for Four Corner Hospitality.
Over the three-day period of December 4-6, Montgomery County reports that there were 564 new cases in the county. As of December 1st, the 14-day PCR positivity rate in the county is 8.3%. Having the 14-day rate below 5% is considered having the virus under control. This places the county in the substantial category for community transmission.
To put these numbers in context, a year ago and prior to the widepsread availabiltiy of vaccines, the 14-day PCR positive rate in the county was 11.37% (as of December 9, 2020) and 8.37% (as of November 29, 2020). On December 10th of last year, with similar numbers, Governor Wolf prohibited indoor dining for three weeks.
However, not everyone has been in favor of allowing expanded outdoor dining to continue. During a public meeting MoreThanTheCurve.com attended when the borough council was considering extending the temporary resolution for another month, two neighbors objected due to increased noise. The borough council passed the extension with the caveat that it could continue without live music. Any zoning relief from the the zoning hearing board could come with a similar condition involving music.
The hearing will be held on Thursday, December 9th at 7:00 p.m. at the borough building at 112 Ford Street. The hearing is open to the public and the public will be invited to speak in support or against the application.
Photo: Rear property in question at Gypy Saloon.
Disclosure: An owner of Gypsy Saloon is an investor in Burb Media, the parent company of MoreThanTheCurve.com