NYC Restaurants in Search of Foot Traffic Can Apply to DOT

The businesses next to the city's first pop-up cafe, on Pearl Street, say it's been a boon for foot traffic and profits. Photo: NYC DOT

A few months after launching the city’s first “pop-up café on Pearl Street in Lower Manhattan, NYC DOT is putting out a call to other businesses who might be interested in reclaiming curbside spaces to make way for seasonal sidewalk extensions, tables, and seating. The department announced today that it’s seeking applications [PDF] to expand the pop-up café program to as many as 12 locations throughout the five boroughs next year.

Implicit in the program is the message that foot traffic and high-quality public space have greater value for street-level businesses than car storage. The two restaurants who sponsored the Pearl Street project, Fika Espresso Bar and Bombay’s, say business is up as much as 14 percent since the pop-up café was installed in August, according to DOT’s press release.

“Small businesses are the backbone of New York City’s economy and we need to do everything we can to help them through today’s difficult economic climate,” said DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan in a statement. “The City’s first Pop-up Café has been both an innovative public space and also an economic boon, and now enterprises across the city can buy in to this cost-effective, creative use of our streets.”

In San Francisco, where curbside reclamation projects are called “parklets,” the planning department released a similar request earlier this year after piloting the idea in two locations. The original inspiration for both programs, of course, is Park(ing) Day, which was recently observed for the fifth year in cities around the world.

The NYC public space expansions will be available to restaurants on streets where regular sidewalk café licenses are not permitted, and which have the support of the local community board to reclaim the curb. Restaurants have to apply by December 3 to be considered for next year’s program.

  • Glenn

    How much does a metered parking space net in revenue for the city each year? I bet the extra sales tax from this more than makes up for whatever parking fees the city might have collected. That’s the problem (to motorheads) with low cost parking. It makes it very easy to profit from using it for other things.

    The City should issue broader RFP – If you would pay double the net parking fees for a parking space and use it for something other than automobile storage, what would that be?

  • Doug G.

    I count six people taking up the space of one car. Even if they’re only paying $10 each for their meal, that’s $60 earned for a business, plus tax revenue to the city. Far more than the $2 or so one person would pay to park his car for an hour. Sounds like a win to me.

  • Felix

    I saw a couple of these in Plattsburgh, of all places, over the summer. They were doing quite well.

  • J

    This is standard practice for all outdoor cafes in Montreal. Each spring, businesses across the city pay to construct the sidewalk cafes over their parking spaces, so customers can sit outside.

  • Miriam

    Nice idea!

  • Andrew

    Is seating at these pop-up cafes limited to patrons of the abutting restaurant, or is it open seating that anybody is welcome to use?

  • ChrisC

    12 locations? There should be dozens. If it makes it harder for people to find a parking spot, good. Take transit and you won’t have to worry about finding a parking spot.

  • Andrew: I hear your concerns. It’s public space; anybody can sit there.

    I can see people being concerned that, despite the fact that anyone can technically sit there, it is, in practice, the privatization of public space. But then again, when that same public space is used to store an automobile, you certainly aren’t allowed to sit on its seats.


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