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Select Board votes to start outdoor dining season on April 12, earlier than anticipated

Black Horse Tavern owner Jim Covino asked the Select Board to push up the outdoor dining season. The board agreed to move the date from April 29 to April 12. WINCHESTER NEWS STAFF PHOTO/PETER CASEY

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Four restaurants have been approved for outdoor dining, but the date on which the season will begin came up for debate.

The Select Board voted back in December, after a public hearing, that the outdoor dining season would run from April 29 to Oct. 28, but Black Horse Tavern owner Jim Covino said that move would cost him $350,000.

“You took 77 days from us, which is 7,000 turns … that’s $350,000 in sales,” Covino said, calling the move egregious.

Covino said his numbers are based on a $50 meal times the number of times they could have turned the table over in the 77 lost days — which adds up to $350,000.

He said he understood why they wanted to cut outdoor dining short on the back end in October, when the days are shorter and the weather is starting to turn. But he questioned why they would put the start date after spring break, which he called an important time for his business.

The Select Board approved outdoor dining for A Tavola, Black Horse Tavern, First House Pub and Lucia’s. WINCHESTER NEWS STAFF PHOTO/PETER CASEY

Covino also argued he wasn’t allowed to vote on the issue, “I don’t even think it was open to the public.”

Mucci, however, stopped him there. He told Covino that the hearing where the decision was made had been open to the public, the Chamber of Commerce attended as did other local businesses.

According to the Select Board meeting minutes of Dec. 11, Mucci noted there had been feedback from other merchants stating they felt the outdoor dining season ran too long.

“After some discussion, it was decided to have the restaurants open outdoor dining April 29 and close Oct. 28,” read the minutes. That date was later further trimmed to Oct. 16.

It was also decided that for businesses extending their seating into a parking/travel lane, they would have to pay an annual fee of $1,000 per parking space, with a cap of three spaces allowed.

Finding compromise

Mucci called that date change a balancing act that included listening to all the businesses downtown.

Covino, however, said if someone’s business is flailing, they shouldn’t blame it on parking. He wondered if retail businesses understood how much money the town makes from the restaurant business. He said the town has made over $1 million since 2013 when a local option meal tax of .75% was instituted.

Board member Michelle Prior called Covino out on his estimate of time lost.

“It’s not 77 days right, when you really care about nine or 10 days in April,” she said.

Mucci also took Covino’s math to task. He pointed out that with outdoor dining, he’s been able to increase his restaurant space by 50% and that doesn’t sit well with some businesses.

“To me, everything you’re getting from the town giving you outdoor dining is a windfall,” he said.

Mucci reminded Covino that when he opened his restaurant, he thought he’d only be serving within the confines of four walls. The COVID-19 pandemic changed that when communities across the commonwealth were allowed to institute outdoor dining in order to help restaurants survive.

Member Michael Bettencourt said figuring out how to make it work was like “kind of building the plane while we were flying it … and things are going to change every year, experiences change.” He said he thought April 12 - Oct. 15 seemed like pretty good stakes to put on either side of the season.

“That would be my sense,” he said. “It’s not asking for too much and it’s not giving too much to the restaurants either at this point.”

Outdoor dining has also expanded beyond throwing up some Jersey barriers, Bettencourt added.

“The set-up process is a lot more involved for restaurants and they’ve invested a lot more in them and it looks fantastic,” he said.

Select Board Vice Chair Anthea Brady agreed moving opening day to April 12 to include April vacation sounded like a good compromise and offered a motion to amend the policy, which was approved.

Other business

The date change wasn’t the only tweak the board made on March 11. Originally, outdoor dining was to end at 10 p.m. out of deference for nearby homeowners, but at the urging of Covino, that too was bumped up to 11 p.m.

In the end, the Select Board approved outdoor dining for A Tavola, Black Horse Tavern, First House Pub and Lucia’s. An application for China Sky is pending completion.

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