Downtown grocery will use parking for new patio

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Hoping to create a more comfortable pedestrian environment downtown, Royal Blue Grocery plans to convert parking space into business space.

The city’s one year pilot plan to allow the Royal Blue Grocery on North Congress Avenue to use two downtown parking spaces located directly in front of the store for outdoor retail space at $300 per space per month was approved by The City Council March 22. Construction on a small wooden platform on the spaces with picnic tables and benches will begin soon, said Craig Staley, Royal Blue Grocery co-owner and proprietor.

“This will turn downtown into a more vibrant and pedestrian friendly area,” Staley said. “Congress is the only street that allows business to utilize the sidewalk areas outside of a business without charge, but it is very narrow and there is really only enough room for people to walk by. This will offer people a place to sit down to eat lunch, use Wi-Fi and enjoy the weather.”

The two-space area has been approved for one year to gauge customers’ reactions, Staley said. If successful, Staley said he hopes more businesses will utilize the idea to create a more pedestrian-friendly atmosphere downtown.

Staley said Royal Blue Grocery plans to invest $20,000 so customers can have a fair representation of the project’s full potential.

“We are going to construct it out of wood rather than cement or any other permanent building material because it is temporary for now and we want to see how people like it,” Staley said. “We are really taking a risk on this as a business because we don’t know if it will even be something permanent, but we are confident that once people give it a try they will love it.”

Leah Bojo, a policy aide to city council member Chris Riley and supporter of the idea, said customers and downtown patrons should not worry about the loss of the two parking spaces because an Airport Flyer bus stop was recently removed about a block away from the store resulting in new spaces.

“We are creating a destination,” Bojo said. “When there is a great environment for people to enjoy, that is more important than the parking because there are still so many other options for parking and transportation downtown.”

George Scariano, Royal Blue Grocery co-owner and proprietor, said most customers are pedestrians and are not using those spaces to park anyway, so the space will be more useful to them now.

“Ninety percent of my customers are walk-up,” Scariano said. “There is heavy pedestrian dependence. We think it will be great for the downtown environment and a good way to encourage pedestrian traffic which creates a good atmosphere.”