Weather forces cancellation of Federal Hill’s extended Al Fresco dining


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — One of Federal Hill’s biggest days of the year has been much quieter than normal.

With the traditional Columbus Day festival already canceled due to the pandemic, restaurants planned to celebrate Italian heritage with an expanded version of Al Fresco on the Hill, in which 14 blocks of Atwells Avenue close to traffic so more diners can enjoy a meal outdoors.

But by Monday morning, that too had to be canceled to due to the weather, according to the Federal Hill Commerce Association’s Rick Simone.

Restaurants will remain open, Simone said, but the street will not be closed down for dining and live entertainment.

Some restaurants were seen setting up a few tables, but the owners told 12 News they weren’t expecting too many customers considering the rain and cooler temperatures.

Despite the washout and the public health situation, restaurant owners said they were still able to bring in some much-needed dough this weekend.

“It was really a good turnout. A really, really good turnout,” Bacco Vino & Contorni owner Armando Bisceglia said.

Bisceglia opened his restaurant just three weeks prior to the pandemic, and the holiday weekend helped bring in some new customers.

“It seemed like they were happy to be up here and enjoying something to do with all of the situation that is going around,” he said.

“There is not a single place up here that would tell you they are not happy with what we were able to accomplish in the current conditions,” Simone added.

Federal Hill normally sees around 120,000 patrons during Columbus Day weekend, according to Simone.

“We weren’t really positive what to expect from a crowd standpoint,” he said. “It was great. It was good. Definitely not the numbers we would traditionally have, but I will tell you over the course of the weekend, there were probably 50,000 people here over the course of the three days.”

Simone also said they had good compliance with mask-wearing and social distancing.

Late last month, Gov. Gina Raimondo reduced the required distance for outdoor dining tables from eight feet to six, which several restaurant owners said made a huge difference.

Raimondo also encouraged owners to apply for grants through her Take It Outside campaign, which they could use to prolong outdoor dining through the purchase of items like furniture, tents, lighting, and heating lamps.

Simone said 200 heating lamps were used this weekend for the first time on Federal Hill, and restaurant owners said their customers loved them.

The Federal Hill Commerce Association received $125,000 from the Take It Outside campaign, and Simone said they have applied for more funding.

Federal Hill is setting an example of how to do outdoor dining, Simone said, adding that he’s gotten calls about it from as far away as New Hampshire, and several Rhode Island mayors visited the hill this weekend to observe.

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