Part of Holmes Ave. closed to support local restaurants

Part of Holmes Ave. closed to support local restaurants
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As restaurants continue to grapple with reopening their shops and trying to earn as much as possible with the current restrictions, the city of Huntsville is working to help some of them during a difficult time.

On Friday, the city closed Holmes Avenue between Jefferson Street and Spraggins Street to allow a trio of restaurants to use the street as an extension of their businesses.

A server from MELT takes orders from guests who are dining in the middle of Holmes Avenue Friday evening. The initiative is part of an effort to help some restaurants in downtown Huntsville.
A server from MELT takes orders from guests who are dining in the middle of Holmes Avenue Friday evening. The initiative is part of an effort to help some restaurants in downtown Huntsville.

"Everyone wants to follow the restrictions and make everyone safer and get over this sooner. And one way we can do that, while also helping the businesses, is to increase their outdoor dining," said Chad Emerson, CEO of Downtown Huntsville Inc.

The three restaurants, La Esquina Cocina, Moe's Original BBQ, and MELT all agreed to have that stretch of road closed for four hours on Fridays and Saturdays during the month of June.

The move will limit their ability to have third-party delivery services easily park in front of their restaurants, but it will expand the number of people who can eat in person at the restaurant in a sit down capacity.

Blake Landry spent part of his evening downtown with his friend, Caroline Kennedy. They said they were impressed with how well the street dining was pulled off.

"The servers are all handling their individual tables and I feel safe. I mean, we're all individually spaced out properly and it's just a really great vibe," said Landry.

MELT was in business for a little more than a year when the pandemic hit. Assistant General Manager Jennifer Hurt said they've been managing through a combination of curbside pickup and delivery.

"We delivered to neighborhoods, which saved us a lot too. And of course to the hospitals and all around us. But the big thing is we just had to start thinking outside the box," said Hurt.

It was that type of out-of-the-box thinking that led to the idea for the street closure, which was a joint effort between the City of Huntsville, Huntsville Police and Downtown Huntsville Inc.

"If we can work with creative solutions in the short term, in the temporary time, hopefully they'll be in a good position in the long term when we're able to restore more of the permanent ways that we gather together," said Emerson.

During the event, singer and guitarist Josh Allison performed across the street of diners. He said the times are forcing him to be innovative as well. That's why he put a QR code on his amp so that people could request songs from a distance during the show.

"It pulls up a full song list and it's a way to digitally tip me too. So Venmo, CashApp and PayPal's on there. So it's worked out, but at the same time, I'm glad we're getting back into the groove of being normal again," said Allison.

But not everyone is quite ready for so much normalcy just yet.

Jesse Romine said Friday was his first time going out to eat at a restaurant since the coronavirus restrictions came about. He said the outdoor style of dining and the attention to social distancing helped put him at ease. However, he added that eating inside a restaurant isn't something he's quite prepared to do just yet.

"I'll probably give it some more time to die down, honestly. I don't feel like it's quite at that level yet. It's getting there for sure, but day-by-day it's still climbing, so I'll just give it some more time," said Romine.

Emerson said Downtown Huntsville Inc. is studying the surroundings of other restaurants to see what similar options there may be to help other establishments down the road.

The stretch of Holmes will close to traffic from 5-9 each Friday and Saturday night from now through the end of June.

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