Adjusted Grimsby patio rules expected Monday to help struggling businesses

Restaurants in downtown Grimsby will get a reprieve from unworkable patio rules Monday, provided the town council passes a new motion designed to ease restrictions.

Grimsby Mayor Jeff Jordan told Niagara Info Friday afternoon that on Monday, a new motion will be put in front of the Town council to give restaurant owners new more flexible rules to work with so they can expand seating onto the sidewalk.

“It should be approved by council. I would be surprised if any of them moved against it,” said Jordan.

Under the new rules, patio operators will also not need to comply with a new $5 million liability insurance policy requirement that was quietly enabled earlier this year.

“We have decided to make an exception on the $5 million liability requirement and push it back to $2-million for the remainder of 2020,” explained Jordan.

The issue became contentious after the town’s rules made it impossible for The Forty Pub owner Mark Wood to open his sidewalk patio as Grimsby joined Stage 2 of the Ontario government’s reopening rules.

Mark Woods, owner The Forty Pub
Mark Wood, owner of The Forty Pub in Grimsby

Wood has been an unapologetic and vocal critic of how the Town and its municipal representatives were handling the COVID-19 crisis as it related to the reopening of business.

In late June, the Province of Ontario announced that restaurant patios could reopen in the Niagara Region, as part of the Stage 3 reopening plan. Shortly thereafter, the Town of Grimsby sent inspectors to examine Wood’s patio, which at the time had five tables, Wood said. 

The visit triggered a followup email from the Town that complained about Wood’s paperwork; citing measurements in on the plan was in imperial units, but should be in metric. Wood corrected the paperwork, downsized the patio to meet space requirements, removing two tables, leaving space for three tables, to serve a total of six customers at a time.

The biggest issue however was the insurance requirement. To fully comply, Wood was told he would need to secure an additional $5 million liability insurance for the patio. His insurance broker quoted an extra $1,000 more in premiums for the summer, over his $1000 per month policy for the existing premises.

“It just didn’t make sense. One thousand dollars for a six-person patio, and for how many weeks left in the summer? It’s not like I have the rest of my restaurant open to subsidize that cost,” he said.

The town inspectors also took issue with the patio umbrellas, which did not meet the seven-foot height requirement set by the town. “Without umbrellas people have to sit in the sun with a  temperature of what 32 or 35 degrees this last week?” he said, adding that not even the most loyal customer is going to endure that. 

Mayor Jordan said the new rules, once approved by council, also alleviate the umbrella height requirement.

Once approved, the new Grimsby patio rules will allow merchants to expand their seating onto the sidewalk. Pedestrians are expected to get a barricaded walkway in the street where cars usually park curbside on the north side of Main Street.

The new rules should go into effect as Grimsby (and the rest of the Niagara Region) enter Stage 3 of the province’s reopening plan next Friday. That news has yet to be announced by the Province, however, it is widely anticipated.

Wood lauded Jordan’s efforts to alleviate the bureaucracy blocking his patio, saying, “Jeff has been on my side since day one and has trying to get to the bottom things.”

The restrictive economic climate, caused by COVID-19 SHUTDOWNS, has made a visible impact least three businesses on the strip have shut down in recent weeks. The Happy Baby clothing store, Found, a furniture consignment store, and the pottery-painting store Crock a Doodle, have all had to shut their businesses for good as COVID-19 restrictions crippled the local economy and kept customers at home.

The arrival of Stage 3 and the new patio rules should reignite activity in Grimsby’s downtown. “Expect a giant influx of business downtown next Friday when all this happens,” said Wood.