April 29, 2020

A Lithuanian city is turning its streets into coffee shops

Real estate is so cramped that businesses are going al fresco.

In Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, restaurants are the new public square. As the city reopens this week, it’s putting in place basic social distancing rules:

  • Masks are a must.
  • Only a few customers can enter a store at any time.
  • Restaurants and cafés have to keep tables at least 2 meters apart.

But in some cramped quarters of the city, real estate is so tight that even 2 meters of separation is too big of an ask — so the city decided to welcome businesses into the outdoors.

The central square? That’s a pasta shop now

Don’t have space in your store to keep your customers at a distance? Just haul those tables outside. Soon open-air restaurants will flood the city’s public arena, taking over plazas and closed-off streets.

160+ businesses have already applied for an outdoor operating permit, making Vilnius the first major city to contort itself into a giant open-air café.

Long may the al fresco business reign 

Turning to open-air operations in a pandemic isn’t a totally novel idea. During the Spanish flu, San Francisco held legal proceedings and church services in the outdoors to cut down on virus transmission.

In the US, NYC has already closed off 100 miles of roads to traffic for more walking space, and some municipalities are letting restaurants set up shop in empty parking lots.

All of which suggests: This summer, in the best-case scenario, we may all find ourselves sipping rosé in folding chairs in the middle of an Applebee’s parking lot.

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