The City of Monticello is establishing “parklets” in front of downtown restaurants in order to expand their outdoor seating capacity, beginning Friday. As the state enters Phase 3 of the state's reopening plan, restaurants will be able to add outdoor seating to the current takeout, delivery and curbside offerings.

Three restaurants on North Charter Street have already indicated they will take advantage of the parklets, which will cordon off parking spaces in front of their businesses. Wooden planters created by the city's beautification department will help improve the ambiance. Pedestrian fencing will supplement the planters to create enclosed areas and still allow cars to drive by.

“It might not look quite the same, but at least it allows a little bit of normalcy in what has been a very abnormal world,” said Chamber of Commerce and Monticello Main Street Director Shelly Crawford-Stock, who worked with the city to get parklets in place by Friday.

Restaurants taking part need to meet certain health department guidelines. Tables must be no closer than six feet apart and accommodate no more than six people at a time, servers will wear masks and gloves, and hand washing/sanitation stations will be provided.

The city is purchasing 11 patio umbrellas, which will offered for use to participating businesses. The $3,200 outlay will come from funds generated by the city business district that was created last year.

“It's an eligible expense, it helps promote more people into our downtown, and that's certainly what we want to invite and encourage,” City of Monticello Community Development Director Callie Jo McFarland told the city council on Tuesday night. Aldermen unanimously approved the purchase.

“The umbrellas will also provide another visual that downtown businesses are still open, encouraging more traffic to support them,” said McFarland.

“The parklets are a super awesome idea,” concurred city council member John Frerichs.

McFarland said a lot of the activity will be in the 100 block of South Charter, where there are three restaurants. She felt that fencing will provide adequate safety, and that the chief of police had signed off on it.

“It will be a very delineated area,” she added.

Participating businesses have also been notified they will lose parking places, so will need to designate other spots close by as a pickup point for those still wanting take-out meals.

Crawford-Stock understands that not all citizens are ready to eat in public, but hopes the plan can serve the mindset of the entire community.

“There are still some people who aren't as comfortable being out in crowds, and so this allows those folks to still have places where they can park and get curbside pickup. The folks who are a little more comfortable can choose to sit at a table. I just think it's a good median start to getting back to normal life,” she said.

McFarland hopes the offerings will also give an emotional boost to those venturing downtown.

“Businesses will get to cater to more clientele at any given time, and consumers get to experience the world outside their homes in a socially distance and 'fresh air' way,” she said.

Crawford-Stock also encouraged consumers not to forget that other retail businesses are also allowed to open at 50 percent capacity on Friday.