While the story below reflects a slow start to Spring, we want to see what your first night out in Downtown looks like! Share your photos enjoying the Streatery, or the Commons with the Ithaca Voice at tips@ithacavoice.com or tag us on social media and we’ll share our favorites! (Don’t forget to also observe COVID-19 safety precautions)

ITHACA, N.Y. ––While the City of Ithaca closed off the 100 block of North Aurora Street to herald the warmer weather and boost business among local eateries by offering socially distanced, outdoor dining options, the first day of the “Streatery’s” reopening instead saw 37-degree weather and a a slew of snowstorms. 

Rather than a bustling street, flooded with patrons and filled tables, the 100 block of North Aurora Street looked the same as it did throughout the winter: empty. The only thing that signaled the reopening of the widely popular “Streatery” was the signage closing off the block.  

Despite the snowy first day, Ithaca businesses remain optimistic about the spring summer. Oni Sutich, a general manager at Luna Inspired Street Food, said the eatery expects to see an increase in business this summer because of the outdoor seating.

“It’s a busy season, with the spring and summer coming up,” Sutich said. “Outdoor seating is great, especially during COVID.” It allows people to get out of the house safely, have some comfort and get out back to a normal life.”

The Aurora “Streatery” first opened in the summer of 2020 to give restaurants the opportunity to expand their dining capabilities during the pandemic, while adhering to New York State guidelines. The initiative was hugely successful, as restaurants had a constant stream of customers and tables filled the closed-off portion of the street.

Given the “Streatery’s” success, the Downtown Ithaca Alliance in conjunction with the City of Ithaca decided to close off a portion of North Aurora Street again, for the spring and summer. 

Gary Ferguson, the executive director of the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, said the City of Ithaca decided to reopen the “Streatery” in April because that time is typically when local restaurants have outdoor seating.

“I think it made sense to try to do it in early April, so that people could use it as much as they possibly could,” Ferguson said.

The “Streatery” was also much needed during the pandemic because of New York State guidelines, which allow restaurants to only operate at a 75 percent capacity for indoor dining. These guidelines made it difficult for many restaurants, because seating still needed to be six feet apart. As a result, it became more difficult for restaurants to offer indoor dining options under such a limiting capacity, according to Ferguson.

During the winter, business had been slow for many local restaurants. According to Sutich, Luna was not hit as hard by the winter weather and lack of outdoor dining options because of its delivery service, but business was still a bit slower during the winter months.

Ferguson said the “Streatery” and increased outdoor dining options made a significant difference for restaurants last summer and fall. 

Although the City of Ithaca created the “Streatery” in response to the pandemic, Ferguson said it is possible the initiative could continue even post-COVID. 

“It’s very possible,” Ferguson said. “One of the things that I think came out of the pandemic was this sense of better, more creative ways to use our public spaces.”

With warmer weather slated for this week, it looks like the North Aurora “Streatery” won’t be completely empty for long.

Meghna Maharishi is a Fall 2019 intern for the Ithaca Voice and a sophomore at Cornell University majoring in Industrial and Labor Relations.