Let's not pull any punches; it’s been a rough year. But December doesn’t know that – it just knows that it has a page on the calendar preloaded with special days. First comes Hanukkah, then Winter Solstice, then Christmas Eve and Christmas Day; Kwanzaa begins, and finally there’s New Year’s Eve. And while we’re advised that our in-person gatherings should be limited to only the people we live with, many holiday activities and events will be held outdoors – some for the first time ever – thanks in large part to Take It Outside grants, a statewide initiative totaling $3.1 million in awards to help businesses increase outdoor activity while reducing the transmission rate of COVID-19.
Rhode Island Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor stated, “We were encouraged by applicants’ creativity in proposing so many clever and practical ways to help businesses overcome COVID- and climate-related challenges. We thank all of the organizations that applied and are finding ways to take it outside and keep commerce going.” The awardees were selected following a request for proposal bidding process in which Commerce received 85 applications. In addition to the grants awarded, select intermediary organizations like Chambers of Commerce were awarded funds with increased flexibility to meet the unique needs of the business communities.
The Rhode Island Hospitality Association used their grant to launch the #BYOBlanket campaign. “For those customers who enjoy outdoor dining but don’t love the cooler temperatures, we hope these blankets and additional supplies will encourage them to continue to enjoy al fresco dining well into the fall, and that the extension of the outdoor dining season provides much-needed relief to restaurant operators throughout the state,” says Dale J. Venturini, President/CEO of RIHA. The group astutely partnered with Ocean State Job Lot to purchase blankets and hand warmers at a significant discount, allowing them to stretch the dollars they received.
“People are loving the BYOBlanket once we explain how it is supposed to work to them,” says Karen Recene, manager of The Pub in Matunuck. “We have given out a ton of blankets.” Kate Sheridan, owner of The Shanty restaurant in Warwick, is also a fan of the program. “In an uncertain time for everyone, the campaign has brought a little normalcy back to our guests and staff. We get to continue to serve our spin on comfort food in an atmosphere guests are most comfortable with right now,” she says.
“We’re thrilled to be awarded this grant as we will be able to help many businesses purchase items that help defray their unforeseen costs of operating their business outside due to the pandemic,” said Kristin Urbach, Executive Director of the North Kingstown Chamber of Commerce, which has been awarded a $100,000 state grant in support of two programs. The first will serve as an intermediary for Chamber members and non-member local businesses to apply for the procurement and purchasing of eligible expenses – things like chairs, tables, heat lamps, tents, and PPE – to expand their outdoor dining and operations outside. Second, the grant will help fund an Open-Air Holiday Market in Wickford Village.
At press time, not all details for special events were confirmed, but keep your eyes open all over South County for happenings. Watch for holiday markets in Wickford, Westerly, and Narragansett; live performances on a new outdoor stage at South Kingstown’s Pump House; outdoor heated dining in Hopkinton, Matunuck, Richmond, and more; and glowing igloos popping up in East Greenwich. Most of all, let’s bundle up while we keep our collective chins up, grab a hot cocoa, look up at the stars, and be glad we live in a state that is showing its independent spirit by being so inventive.