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Pursuit of outdoor dining exemplifies broader push to reopen

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Harris and Eckardt Discuss Seating With Agharabi

Congressman Andy Harris and State Sen. Addie Eckardt talk about dining seating options with restaurant owner Chris Agharabi.

CAMBRIDGE — Businesspeople and local leaders are grappling with the issue of expanding outdoor dining as part of an overall effort to safely reopen the economy in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and shutdown.

Restaurant owner Chris Agharabi met with U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md.-1st, and State Sen. Addie Eckardt, R-37-Mid-Shore, on Wednesday morning at two of his locations in downtown Cambridge.

Agharabi, who owns Ava’s Pizzeria and Theo’s in Cambridge, and Ava’s Pizzeria and Theo’s in Saint Michaels, said that outdoor dining must be addressed with a sense of urgency and clear guidelines.

“It’s not just about this restaurant,” said Agharabi, who said that other businesses and restaurants needed relief too. “It’s hard enough to do business at full capacity, never mind 30%.”

“When you talk about a business, you’re talking about employees,” said Agharabi, who pointed out that to his workers, working in the restaurant is a career, not part time work. “People just want to work,” he said.

Harris said that getting the economy back in motion was his top priority. He said that guidelines frequently hinder businesses, and that owners tell him, “Just let me know the rules.”

The Cambridge City Council held a special work session on outdoor dining on June 1, and will address the issue again during their June 8 meeting.

Concerns over accessibility for emergency vehicles is a major consideration for any plans, particularly on Poplar Street, a key avenue of access for the west side of Cambridge.

“No matter what, these businesses will need this space, even when partial indoor dining returns,” said Cambridge Main Street Director Katie Clendaniel.

Clendaniel said that the recommendations for outdoor dining are congruent with other local jurisdictions, and that Cambridge needed to adopt reasonable measures in order to keep pace.

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