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New initiative aims to help Austin small businesses expand operations through mid-December

On Monday, Austin launched the "Shop the Block" pilot program. The initiative allows stores, bars and restaurants to expand outdoors to public access areas.

AUSTIN, Texas — Austin small business owners can now apply to use the public access spaces outside their buildings to attract customers.

Stores, bars and restaurants can temporarily expand their area of operations to include sidewalks, parking spaces or even roadways if applicable. Austin's Shop the Block initiative launched Monday to help small businesses continue attracting customers while keeping up coronavirus social distancing guidelines.

"If you have to seat people six feet apart and can only have a limited number of people at a table, pretty fast you run out of space," Councilmember Leslie Pool said.

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Pool's team came up with the idea a little over a month ago. She worked with Good Work Austin – a group of people in the restaurant business working together to improve restaurants during COVID-19 – to iron out the details in the initiative. 

Business owners can apply, but some restrictions exist. For example, any businesses applying for the permit must have neighboring businesses' permission first and must also follow Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines.

However, this idea is just one that members of Good Work Austin hope can help during the pandemic.

"We need to start figuring out ways to use outdoor space more creatively," said Adam Orman, the owner of L'Oca d'Oro. "It was something we were brainstorming as to what would help ease the transition from 25 to 50% capacity – especially when we thought 50% capacity would kind of be the max."

So far, no businesses, restaurants or bars have applied, according to the Austin Center for Events, which will receive the applications. Permits last 30 days, but can be renewed. The program launched Monday and will continue through Dec.15.

WATCH: How some Central Texas restaurants have stayed afloat amid COVID-19

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