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Downtown Baraboo Inc. works with city to add outdoor dining options during COVID-19
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Downtown Baraboo Inc. works with city to add outdoor dining options during COVID-19

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Steve Hess, left, Linda Hoffman and Leah Hess laugh as Kyra Hess tells a story next to Noah Hess, both right, over lunch Tuesday at one of the picnic tables in the courthouse square in downtown Baraboo. Steve Hess said the tables are a good option to get a meal and share it when he either can't, or doesn't want to, enter a restaurant for a sit down meal as worries continue over the spread of COVID-19.

A collaborative effort between Downtown Baraboo Inc. and the city provides more outdoor options for diners reluctant to sit indoors while COVID-19 continues to spread among the populace.

Lacey Steffes, of Downtown Baraboo, said Tuesday the idea behind four extra picnic tables in the courthouse square has been to support downtown businesses, mostly restaurants, and provide a feeling of safety to residents and people from out of town.

“We want to give our visitors, or locals, the opportunity to use downtown Baraboo businesses,” said Steffes, who owns the downtown business Spa Serenity. “It was really a collaborative effort.”

The tables were provided through approval from the city Parks and Recreation Commission during its meeting July 13. Steffes said execution of the plan came after talks with the city emergency management team. The group asked if it could provide anything to ensure downtown businesses could continue despite the pandemic, Steffes said.

Mike Hardy, director of the Baraboo Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department, said the department generally only gives additional tables during special weekend events, but the special circumstances of COVID-19 meant the city had fewer park and shelter rentals.

The commission agreed to keep the tables in place through October. Steffes said when they began considering placing additional tables for outdoor diners, conditions were different. They weren’t certain whether social distancing requirements would need to continue. They made the decision in June to ask for the tables to be placed within the courthouse square.

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“We just thought it would be great to provide a space,” she said.

Hardy said the parks commission agreed the additional seating is part of a positive plan by DBI to provide safer outdoor options for those who don’t feel dining in a building is a good option.

“We feel this is a big benefit to our downtown restaurants and a safer option for those worried about inside dining,” Hardy said in an email Monday.

Steffes said people who use the tables can feel slightly more secure because they are outdoors and can choose to wear a mask as they interact with one another. Downtown Baraboo hosts weekly meetings at the square and the tables are used, along with chairs brought along for the proceeding. Every time she goes past the square Steffes said she sees people using the tables.

Steve Hess sat at a table surrounded by family and empty food containers Tuesday in the square. He said the outdoor dining options are helpful at a time when diners either can’t, or don’t want to, enter a restaurant for a meal at an indoor table.

As for keeping the tables clean, Steffes said downtown restaurant Baraboo Burger Company has staff ensure the surfaces are deeply sanitized each morning. Visitors who use the tables are trusted to clean up after themselves, she said.

Follow Bridget on Twitter @cookebridget or contact her at 608-745-3513.

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