Thinking Outside the… Building

Al Fresco on the Square 

Photo by Tarasa Chandler

The City recently allowed some businesses to adapt to social distancing rules by thinking outside the building­­—and into new spaces for outdoor dining and shopping. 

Council Member Kevin Pitts proposed the idea of expanded outdoor seating and retail service areas in the downtown area in August, using parking spaces and right-of-ways for seating or product displays. The new, temporary program provides residents and visitors with opportunities to dine and shop outdoors while giving a boost to downtown businesses. 

Kevin received feedback from local business owners about a possible monthly “encroachment” into right-of-ways. He suggested the City might consider a more sustainable model, focusing on parking spaces and a predictable schedule that wouldn’t require people to remember to visit on a particular day. 

On Labor Day weekend, the pilot program launched and, although the rain dampened prospects somewhat, many businesses participated. The weekend provided some perspective on planning for the holiday shopping season and, moving forward, business owners will be able to apply for a license to encroach for individual events and shopping days. 

“This was the city’s third small business initiative; Council and staff are eager to help them,” Kevin adds. “We wanted to make sure we considered contingencies, had a plan to ensure safety and flow on the roads, and could cover the costs. We also have a longer-term solution in the works, and we know the market will adjust and our business owners will prosper.” 

MEANWHILE…ON THE WEST SIDE

Some residents of Georgetown didn’t wait for (or need) a city ordinance to adapt their regular routine to the Governor’s new rules. For the past ten years, the McDonald’s on Williams Drive has hosted an eclectic group of friends from Sun City, Georgetown, and even Jarrell, who enjoy a morning coffee and conversation to solve the world’s problems. 

When the restaurant had to close its dining room, these gentlemen (and sometimes ladies) didn’t miss a beat. They are now just as happy to enjoy their coffee and conversation in the parking lot with their lawn chairs and sunshades and, if social media is any indication, they are a favorite sight around Georgetown. Many observers delight in seeing them every day and are happy to see a return to this old-school feeling of community. Sometimes people stop to chat and join in, and even the restaurant owner, Martin, sometimes comes out to give them free coffee or refills. 

Ron LeFan says anywhere from five to maybe a dozen friends come every day. They start arriving around 8am, visit until about 10am, and sometimes stay until noon. “It’s been a nice to be outside in the Spring and Summer,” he adds. “We will be here unless it’s raining… hard… and I hope things change with the rules before January or February. Not sure how that will go.” 

They call themselves the ROMEOS, but they also (affectionately) answer to “The Sinners” because there is another friendly group across the CVS lot who also attend church together, and their morning visit includes prayer and Bible study. 

THE PERSONALITIES!

Despite being a stranger who just walked up with a camera, I felt like I’d been part of the group a long time.  I look forward to retiring someday and can hopefully find people just as friendly, and welcoming as these folks are. 

Everyone tells wonderful stories and they all have interesting backgrounds; Marvin was born and raised in Georgetown and is kin to El Paso outlaw John Wesley Hardin. Ron was a corporate pilot and traveled all over the world. Bucky told me he is Billy Carter’s cousin (and then told me he was pulling my leg), and Don is a former tennis pro who once turned down Jerry Jones in a land deal. 

Alan says he visits with groups like this all over. He is a Veteran, and worked for the federal government in the nation’s capital. When he drives back to Northern Virginia, he is happy to jump in and chat with similar groups at McDonald’s across the country. Like the rest, he is retired but does a little substitute teaching—but Ron quickly adds; “You misunderstand… retirement is not about substitute teaching. Retirement is about sitting out here doing whatever you want to any day, and not working because you worked 55 years so you can retire.” 

Some are “founding members” of the group and Ron says it is important to recognize Fast Eddie Patrone as one of the original McDonald’s group. He is a former stock car driver and is now in Chicago, but they speak fondly of him and others who weren’t visiting that day. 

As I was leaving, I ran into John “John 3:16” or “Big Johnny Potato”, who doesn’t seem to mind the warmhearted nicknames. He was a mechanic and retired young to sail around the world with his wife. When his wife passed away, he believes God directed him to Texas, and has been a regular in the coffee club. “I started studying the Bible, and I know I really only need Jesus in my life, but I love seeing these folks and having company every morning.” He added that I don’t have to actually retire to join them, and says to come back any time. 

Ron says, truly, anyone is welcome to join in, and jokes “You have to be at least 70 years old, and bring your own lawn chair.” 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *