Sidewalk cafes: Ado about nothing First season showed fears in historic Annapolis were unfounded.

November 20, 1996

THE FIRST SEASON is over. The verdict is in: Annapolis sidewalk cafes were a success that added to the state capital's charm. After the City Council gave the green light to the opening of sidewalk cafes last spring, 21 such operations appeared in downtown Annapolis and Eastport. Into autumn, none of the dire predictions of opponents materialized.

"They haven't junked up the place, which was a concern. Some of them look quite nice and people really enjoy them," conceded an officer of the Ward One Residents Association, which fought the change. This should not be surprising. The fears never made sense. Why would sidewalk cafes be a success in Rome and Paris and a disaster in Annapolis?

On the strength of this first season's experience, we urge the city to review its rules concerning sidewalk cafes. It is clear that while several operators scrupulously followed the letter and spirit of the guidelines, others did not. Worse yet, the city did nothing to punish those operators who failed to remove furniture from the sidewalks every night or used plastic chairs and tables instead of the metal or wooden ones prescribed in the rules that attempt to honor the historic character of Annapolis. None of this may make much difference at this point. But the city has to have clear rules and be in a position to enforce them.

We supported the sidewalk cafe concept editorially and urged the City Council against micromanaging. Interestingly enough, that turned out not to be a problem. Instead, the sidewalk cafe legislation proved to be a measure minus teeth, because no one seemed to have clear authority to enforce it. The only reason the concept worked so well was because the majority of cafe operators decided to comply with the law. What happens next year if one or more operators decide to flagrantly violate the guidelines?

Nothing succeeds like success. It is likely that many operators, buoyed by this past season's experience, will upgrade their furniture next year and try to make their cafes more attractive. After all, they are competing for patrons. It is in Annapolis' best interest to encourage cafes to do so by ensuring that substandard furniture that is against the law is not allowed on sidewalks next year.

Pub Date: 11/20/96

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