Safe Streets

Portland’s Healthy Businesses Program Has Been a Lifeline to Small Businesses — And We’re Proud to Support It

Outdoor seating in front of a cafe, including multi-colored chairs and umbrellas.

Part of PBOT’s Safe Streets Initiative, the idea behind the program is to help businesses and organizations meet the requirements for physical distancing to limit the spread of Covid-19 by waiving permit fees and conducting outreach to businesses, especially those owned by BIPOC folks. The program also brought in funding from grants and partners to help pay for outdoor dining furniture.

Spin is proud to be one of those partners. Along with Ride Report, we provided local design shop Figure Plant with the funds to build furniture for several local Portland businesses.

“The fact that Spin was able to provide funding, that’s just been a really great way to spread the economic support around the city in this challenging time,” said Hannah Schafer, communications coordinator with the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT).

With the funds Spin and Ride Report provided, Figure Plant has built outdoor spaces for Po’ Shines Cafe and Kiss Coffee. Figure Plant is currently working with a third business on another outdoor space.

PBOT has issued more than a 1,000 permits through this program and has gotten tremendously positive feedback, not just from local businesses, who saw this effort as a lifeline that has helped them through a very difficult year, but also from community members who are seeing the streetspace in a different light, Schafer said.

Trae and Sarah Pearson outside their coffee shop.

“The neighbors are excited about it,” said Sarah and Trae Pearson, who own and operate Kiss Coffee, referring to the new outdoor space.

“The extra seating is important,” Sarah said, adding that it “builds a sense of actual community.” Trae, who is from Portland, said about the PBOT program, “any support to make it easier is vital, especially right now.”

Trae and Sarah noted that at the beginning of the pandemic, during protests over the killing of George Floyd, their cafe got attention as a Black-owned business in the city.

“We got shared on Instagram,” Trae said. It was emotional for him to see the support the business got. “Being here and being from here, it’s hugely important to me, really important for me to be a Black person and own anything in Portland.”

Kehli Bradley, administrative services manager for Po’ Shines Cafe, said the restaurant really provides a place that people come to for the conversation and “down home feel.” Early in the pandemic, the cafe partnered with a temporary homeless shelter to provide the clients with breakfast, lunch, and dinner two days a week. Po’ Shines also worked to provide seniors with free meals.

The outdoor dining allows folks to frequent the community cafe in a way that’s Covid-safe and still maintains a sense of community.

“Small businesses really are pillars in our community,” Schafer said. “We’re hearing loud and clear that this is something the community loves.”

She noted the program has really helped people see streets in a different light — where once there was only space to park a single-occupancy vehicle, now a family could dine outside while chatting — socially distanced, of course — with friends and neighbors without risking getting sick.

According to a recent survey by PBOT, 78 percent of the 3,000 people who responded said they felt safe using the outdoor dining options. And the program has helped create vibrant, Covid-safe community spaces like the Dream Street Plaza.

With 700 permits lined up for spring and summer, the program shows no sign of waning, said Schafer.

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