Dining al fresco: Stratford's plan to bounce back from tourism dip
STRATFORD -- This time of year, the City of Stratford would normally be bustling with tourists, but the COVID-19 pandemic has changed that.
The city is working to bounce back, launching a unique program to bring people into town: Stratford Al Fresco, an outdoor dining project that will allow restaurants to serve more patrons.
The dining area has been set up at Market Square, where 10 of an eventual 50 tables are available. The city plans on adding tables every week for the next five weeks.
Dozens of restaurants like Foster's Inn reopened their doors a couple weeks ago after being forced to close for three months.
"Zero business for three months certainly has its toll," says owner Craig Foster.
With the loss of the Stratford Festival, which was forced to cancel its entire season, the economic fallout is expected to be sizeable.
The festival alone brings millions of tourists every year.
"For every ticket sold, it's another $278 invested in spending in this community, which is another $135 million," says Joani Gerber, CEO of Invest Stratford.
"So we don't have a theatre season this year, that's a huge, huge economic hit to us."
Gerber says the goal is to help drive tourists to the city and bring business to local restaurants by adding the additional seating, since restaurants are now limited to outdoor seating that's six feet apart.
Mayor Dan Mathieson says the city is trying to find ways to support businesses through the summer and winter so they can rebound by the spring.
Foster says that the project will be a big help.
"We only have 14 seats on the patio and we'd hope to serve more people than that throughout the day," he says.
"So I think, by them opening up Market Square, should really help us."
All of the tables in the al fresco project are six feet apart and equipped with hand sanitizer.
By Monday afternoon, groups were already enjoying it.
"This has been done creatively and imaginatively," one diner told CTV.
The city says the cost of the project is about $120,000.
It's primarily funded by the Federal Development Agency of Southern Ontario.