What was once merely a perk of living in Farmington – that is, an inviting, walkable downtown – has become, during the COVID-19 pandemic, a lifeline for both residents and businesses.
For after quarantining at home for months, most locals are itching to get out of the house while the summer sun shines, and several hungry local businesses have aimed to extend their reach outdoors, since this remains the safest option for everyone.
So what kind of things can you do outside now in downtown Farmington?
Well, on Saturdays, you could visit the town’s award-winning Farmington Farmers Market. And if you’re taking a stroll around town during August, you may get to see some public art in-progress, since local artists Mary Lou Stropoli and Mac Harthun have each designed a mural (for Sunflour Bakehaus and The Vines Flower and Garden shop, respectively) that will be going up soon.
But you can also, at any time, claim a seat on a local restaurant’s patio. Sidecar Slider Bar owner Scot Pelc, for one, is likely to greet you with a big smile – behind a mask, from a safe distance.
"When we first opened back up, I told everyone coming in, 'God, I missed you guys'," Pelc says. "We went three months doing just carryout. I was here seven days a week, and our carryout business was pretty good. But I missed our regulars. I missed people being around the building. It was lonely. … But as soon as that was over, we got back to almost-business-as-usual, because of the extra patio we’ve got out front now. Not exactly where we normally would be this time of year, but almost."
Sidecar’s "extra patio" facing Grand River – perpendicular to the original patio space that faces the slider bar’s parking lot – was a fortuitously timed renovation that was completed last year, long before anyone had heard the word "Coronavirus."
"That is a huge boon for me this summer, definitely, to have both patios available," says Pelc. " … The only dip that we see are on rainy days. And knock on wood, we’ve been blessed with a summer without a lot of rain so far."
Farmington’s Los Tres Amigos has a similarly large patio space, but some local eateries have had to simply make use of the outdoor space they have, while other downtown venues – including John Cowley & Sons, Loft Cigar Lounge, Farmington Brewing Company, and 1UP Arcade and Basement Burger Bar – have had to improvise by making a portion of a rear parking lot into a pop-up patio.
This quick-footed adaptation (and the expanded outdoor liquor license that often makes it possible) evolved after Farmington’s Downtown Development Authority asked the City Council for increased flexibility this summer, to counter the economic challenges posed by COVID-19.
Kate Knight, Farmington DDA executive director"It wasn’t an immediate yes, but we got to yes, after some careful conversations and thoughtful vetting," said Kate Knight, executive director of the DDA. "The City Council is understandably pretty risk averse, but once they heard that other downtowns were talking about doing the same kinds of things, and that we weren’t alone in this, they were willing to be flexible and loosen things up, in terms of local ordinances."
Another outdoor option downtown, of course, involves getting carryout and having a picnic in Riley Park or its environs.
"The DDA spent its seasonal budget this year on tables and chairs and umbrellas and fixtures," says Knight. " … They say you have 90 days to make hay in Michigan. But even when the weather turns cooler, we’re hopeful that these spaces will still be bustling. We’ll add heaters if we need to, or do whatever we can to help."
And even if you’re just looking for a weekly group run and a beer, downtown Farmington’s got you covered.
The Farmington Brewing Company Run Club, which marked its fourth anniversary in June, meets on Tuesday evenings behind FBC (where there’s more room for physical distancing), and it staggers its heats at 6 p.m., 6:30 p.m., and 7 p.m. to ensure safe, smaller groups.
"We’ve got everything from walkers to speedsters and everything in between – which helps with physical distancing, actually," says Club co-founder Susan Arlin. "We encourage our faster runners to lead us out."
Each month, the Club’s 5K route gets changed up and published on the group’s Facebook page, which now has over 450 followers. Even so, Arlin noted that these days, the first heat draws the fewest runners (around 10), while the second and third heats attract between 15 and 25 people, on average.
The Farmington Brewing Company Run Club meets at the brewery every Tuesday evening"We’ve had quite a few first-timers show up in recent weeks," says Susan Arlin, co-founder of the Farmington Brewing Company Run Club. " … We’re an incredibly friendly and connected group that cares about each other, and we welcome everybody with open arms – virtually. We’d love to hug you, but we can’t right now."
Upon completing the route, runners can just grab bottled water from a cooler behind FBC – the brewery’s back patio is designated for "run clubbers" on Tuesday evenings – or buy a beer and hang out for a while.
"They pretty much self-regulate," says FBC owner Jason Schlaff. "They’re so good about enforcing any rule that’s in place for safety reasons. … They’ve been great. We love our run club."
And according to Arlin, not only is the feeling mutual, but the Club’s support extends beyond its home base.
"The impact of Run Club is unbelievable," Arlin says. "Not just the business that’s generated for FBC, but all the other downtown businesses that benefit from the runners coming out each week, too. There’s such a strong sense of community."