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Outdoor Dining Is a Hit. What About Outdoor Shopping?

Doing business outdoors helped salvage the Craft Studio, a Manhattan arts studio with locations in Tribeca and on the Upper East Side — not because of sales, but because Lindsey Peers, the owner, moved art classes and activities to the sidewalk. That meant caregivers and children could still participate in the classes the studios offered.

Ashley Butterman, a regular at the Upper East Side location, stopped taking her two young children when the pandemic took hold. Once the sidewalk classes began, she eagerly returned, happy to have found a way for her children to have play dates without having to enter a building.

“It provided a great way for us to benefit from all the things they do here and to support a local business, but also stay safe and comfortable,” she said.

While the sidewalk classes were successful in the summer, Ms. Peers said she thought she would get only one or two days of actual sidewalk sales in before the end of the year, even though she went through the formal application process. “I know I’m not alone when I say it’s a staffing issue,” she said. “To have a person stationed outside all day, and to make up for that revenue — it’s a gamble.”

Many store owners are avoiding the program entirely. Representatives from business improvement districts in Manhattan’s Chinatown, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Williamsburg and SoHo, and on the Upper East Side and Madison Avenue, all said that it was too soon to read the success of the program because of the low rates of participation.

DianSong Yu, the executive director of the Downtown Flushing Transit Hub Business Improvement District, said the program was not successful in his Queens neighborhood.

“One, local retailers are facing major competition from online retailers like Amazon, Walmart, and Target,” he wrote in an email. “Two, to operate outdoor retail, shops will have to hire more employees for the coverage. A risk most shop owners are not willing to take on. Three, Main Street is occupied by illegal vendors throughout the day. Tough competition for retailers.”

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