'Al fresco' may be answer for shuttered San Jose businesses

There's still no timeline for the reopening of restaurants in San Jose. However, city leaders are proposing a new ordinance which would allow businesses to operate outdoors.

The hope is that they could expand beyond their own storefronts, giving them a chance to serve more customers while still observing social distancing guidelines. 

They're hoping their new "al fresco" plan will be a way to get people back to work quickly and safely.

Quiet streets and empty sidewalks in San Jose could soon help local businesses like Pizza Flora and the Good Karma Cafe bring back diners.

"It's going to be everything we have to hold onto," said Ryan Summers owner of Pizza Flora and Good Karma. "Nothing is going to be the same for at least 12 months,"

The so-called San Jose Al Fresco ordinance would allow restaurants, bars and other businesses to set up in public parks, plazas, streets and sidewalks. 

"If there's going to be rules that restrict how many people can be inside the business, we're going to need to bring the customers outside the business," says Scott Knies, executive director of San Jose Downtown Association.

There's no timeline yet for this type of reopening.

"I think what this crisis affords us is the opportunity to move faster, to recognize that there is a really urgent need to help folks get back to work," said San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo.

City leaders say it's important to have a plan in place and to deal with issues like fees and permitting.

 "We're going to need to make this turn key," said Kries. "And be able to have tables, expand the alcohol service off premises and give these businesses a chance to be successful."

The San Jose Downtown Association says 84% of its businesses are currently closed.

The owner of Pizza Flora is optimistic that this al fresco plan may help.

"I think that's a huge first step," said Summers. "I think it's going to take a lot more than that, but I think every time we make a smart decision in opening up safely is going to help the revenue and the economy of downtown in general."

City leaders envision gyms and retailers using an al fresco model too. They'll begin discussing the ordinance next Wednesday.