Text by Steve Nelson, Executive Director, Downtown Visalians

WWhen handed lemons, the old saying suggests, “Make lemonade.” Making lemonade out of lemons is exactly what Downtown Visalia (DTV) has done for its restaurants and the community that loves to support them.

When the COVID-19 guidelines came down prohibiting inside dining, DTV, with the help of the city, established an umbrella temporary use permit (TCUP) to allow for sidewalk dining. Knowing that more needed to be done, they took the next step to revise the TCUP for dining in the parking area — thus “Roadside Dining” was born.

The initial brainstorming led to many questions: “Do we close all of Main Street?”, “Do we close one lane or go down to one middle lane for Main Street?”, “Do we look at the idea of a Friday night dining concept?” Coming up with a concept was a balancing act — retail and service entities had to be taken into consideration, knowing that the decision would impact them. The goal had to be to protect retail stores while enhancing the opportunity for restaurants to stay open.

In weighing the pros and cons, closing once a week seemed cumbersome and costly, so it was decided to make roadside dining available seven days a week. Selected parking spaces in front or near each restaurant have been blocked off and made into open-air, makeshift dining rooms while leaving adequate parking for retail stores.

The project, financed by DTV and the Property Owners Association, has been a huge success. Restaurant-goers have said it feels like European dining, a new festive vibe and a different type of atmosphere. What started with 14 participating restaurants has now grown to 18. Some restaurants have been able to add more staff and have seen growth close to 70-75 percent of what is their normal.

Yes, we started with lemons, but definitely made lemonade. Come to Downtown Visalia and enjoy “Roadside Dining”!