With heat lamps, lights and tents, restaurants press on

The Town of Bristol is distributing $100,000 of equipment to local businesses

By Scott Pickering
Posted 11/12/20

The Town of Bristol has received $100,000 for heat lamps, tents and other outdoor equipment and is working to get the materials to businesses as quickly as possible. The town first received a $75,000 …

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With heat lamps, lights and tents, restaurants press on

The Town of Bristol is distributing $100,000 of equipment to local businesses

Posted

The Town of Bristol has received $100,000 for heat lamps, tents and other outdoor equipment and is working to get the materials to businesses as quickly as possible. The town first received a $75,000 grant as part of the State of Rhode Island’s $3.1 million “Take It Outside” campaign; it then received another $25,000 grant.

The first round of money was used to purchase mostly heat lamps and outdoor lighting, which the town received relatively quickly under the circumstances. As businesses brace for the colder months during the coronavirus pandemic, heat lamps, tents and tent heaters are hot items (no pun intended) across the country.

Bristol Economic Development Coordinator Chris Vitale said he followed up on a lead from the state and was able to find supplies in the private market. As a result, the town received its first shipment of equipment last month, within a few weeks of Gov. Gina Raimondo’s announcement of the new campaign. Most of that shipment was distributed to 15 different businesses, primarily restaurants.

The second shipment, which arrived Tuesday, includes a supply of 15’ x 15’ and 15’ x 30’ frame tents, with side walls and no center poles. Another seven Bristol businesses have applied for equipment, bringing the total to 22 commercial recipients. Again, most are restaurants, but other recipients include a couple of therapists, a fitness trainer, Mt. Hope Farm and the Audubon.

Every little bit helps

The town actually procures and pays for the equipment and then files for reimbursement from Rhode Island Commerce. Mr. Vitale is working closely with the Bristol Merchants Association to receive and process applications from the local business community, with Judge Roy Bean owner Zack Rivers taking the lead for the private businesses.

Mr. Rivers said many of the restaurants receiving this equipment are just barely surviving while indoor dining and bar restrictions continue. “Everyone is trying anything they can to keep things going,” Mr. Rivers said. “None of this equipment is going to solve everything, but it all helps.”

Judge Roy Bean has been one of the most visible participants in the town’s outdoor dining program, with dozens of restaurants given special permission to use public areas to create Covid-friendly dining spaces. Together with its neighbors on State Street, Bar 31 and Statesmen Tavern, they’ve created a Parisian café-like atmosphere, with lights, tables and outdoor service atop what is typically parking spaces. Heat lamps were a new addition last weekend, and the tents will be coming soon.

The tents are designed to comply with fire codes, but they will still need to be inspected by the fire department before being put to use. Aside from that requirement, the restaurants that have been approved for outdoor dining are being allowed to operate in their same footprint into mid-December.

A gift of propane

The grant recipients got another round of good news this week, when the town reached an agreement with Sunshine Fuels to provide complimentary propane to all the businesses using the new outdoor heat lamps. The town is using the state grant monies to support the effort.

Even with free lamps and free propane, Mr. Rivers and other restaurateurs are hoping the unseasonably warm weather continues for as long as possible. “Getting four additional tables outside is critical. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but it is,” Mr. Rivers said.

Of the free equipment from the state and town, Mr. Rivers said everything helps. “The outdoor dining has definitely helped keep some people in business,” he said. But he and others are worried what happens when the deep New England winter settles in.

Heat lamps and tents likely won’t be enough to keep people dining on State Street, at the edge of Bristol Harbor, in January and February.

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