County closes road to allow Tony’s Tavern outdoor dining

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After a month-long push from Tony’s Tavern and co-owner Nicole McDonald, a section of 4th Street in Custer will temporarily close to make room for an outdoor dining space.

The closure comes after Whatcom County Council unanimously passed an ordinance 7-0 at its February 9 meeting. The ordinance allows Tony’s to set up an outdoor structure between its north boundary and Main Street. It also allows the road to remain closed until Tony’s can open at full indoor capacity.

The approved ordinance is expected to bring relief to the restaurant, which has been hard hit by the pandemic, having closed early or reduced hours several times due to restrictions on indoor dining, inclement weather and the December 22 train derailment that forced evacuations and road closures.

McDonald, a third-generation co-owner of Tony’s, said she called the county a month ago about closing the road to set up an outdoor dining structure. At the time, the restaurant only had indoor dining, which was prohibited under Covid-19 restrictions.

After being told no, McDonald went door to door to ask for community support and called councilmember Ben Elenbaas.

Elenbaas introduced an ordinance at the council’s January 26 meeting. Under county law, ordinances cannot be voted on until they have been introduced for at least two weeks, unless they are an emergency. Elenbaas tried to push for an immediate vote, claiming the situation was an emergency, but the effort was unsuccessful.

“The [Covid-19] restrictions were passed as emergencies,” McDonald said. “And if you look at our financial situation, it was an emergency.”

McDonald said she was frustrated by how long the process took. Tony’s has only been able to open six of the last 12 months due to Covid-19 restrictions, and the uncertainty has made operating the business difficult.

“It’s difficult to run a business day by day when there’s no guarantee we stay in Phase 2,” she said.

With the ordinance approved, McDonald said the restaurant is moving forward with plans to set up about six outside tables in the event indoor dining is restricted again. McDonald said she is thankful the county government is helping support local restaurants and said she has received continued community support throughout the process, including from volunteers who helped build her outdoor structure.

“The silver lining of it is the unity for bars and restaurants making people come together,” she said.

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