The business group, in conjunction with the BRC and Adelante Mujeres, secured CARES Act funding for outdoor seating.

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Local residents will be afforded more outdoor dining options as a result of efforts by the Forest Grove/Cornelius chambers of commerce, BRC and Adelante Mujeres.The Forest Grove/Cornelius Chamber of Commerce, in collaboration with the Forest Grove Business Recovery Center (BRC) and Adelante Mujeres, secured Washington County CARES Act funding to provide outdoor dining equipment and staffing subsidy to 20 local restaurants.

The restaurant and beverage industries have been some of the most heavily hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, experiencing shutdowns this past spring, limited occupancy throughout the summer and fall, and since the state's "freeze" earlier this month, takeout only. Even prior to the latest restrictions, the reduction in table and patron capacity left some food and beverage businesses in the Forest Grove and Cornelius area with very few tables inside, meaning in many cases, limited indoor seating wasn't even economically viable allowing for takeout and delivery only.

"Many of our local restaurants were reduced to three tables under the restrictions prior to the freeze," said Juanita Lint, the Chamber's executive director, "so I felt that if we could afford them outdoor dining, it could expand their capacity."

A survey released in mid-September from the National Restaurant Association says that one in six restaurants in the United States are closed long-term or permanently, equaling roughly100,000 restaurants nationwide. If the current rate of closures persists, around 85% of restaurants in Oregon could close by the end of 2020, totaling close to 7,000, according to the Independent Restaurant Coalition.

Lint said that with Washington County's "extreme risk" designation shutting down indoor dining for the foreseeable future, the Chamber disseminated applications for outdoor tents, heaters, and planters. Twenty local businesses applied.

A second grant was secured to offer digital dining ordering service to 14 restaurants, allowing those eateries three months of digital services through Diner Dashboard, including full set-up for QR code and NFC menu and text messaging; a website made for the restaurant including mobile apps; free online ordering; and assistance with curbside pick-up approaches, as well as delivery.

In regard to staffing, restaurants will be provided additional staffing for their outdoor areas for up to one month.

Lint said that when approached about the idea for the outdoor seating aid, local restaurant owners made it clear that while grateful for the support, it'd do little good without the help necessary to manage the extra space.

"I knew we couldn't justify staffing them in perpetuity," Lint said. "But if we could help them for a month and give them the resources to build their clientele, then perhaps that would be enough to keep them going"

Restaurant owners are responsible for securing an addendum to their liquor license for outdoor service, if applicable, and for obtaining any required city special use permit and/or landlord approval for use of a parking area.

As part of the outdoor equipment grant, the Chamber has contracted with Yost Grube Architecture, out of Portland, to implement best practices for outdoor dining spaces in order to comply with Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administraton codes.

"We used the architectural group to help tell us what kind of tents, what kind of heaters, and what the arrangements should look like so as to comply with OSHA," Lint said.

Working with city governments in both Cornelius and Forest Grove, the Chamber hopes to have tents in place before the end of December — remaining in place through March 2021.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story's headline mischaracterized the Forest Grove/Cornelius Chamber of Commerce. Both Forest Grove and Cornelius are served by a single Chamber of Commerce, of which Juanita Lint is executive director. The headline has been corrected.

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