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Some North End residents are fed up with outdoor dining

People ate outside in the North End last year.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Additional outdoor dining has been a godsend to North End restaurateurs, helping them weather the toughest of the pandemic months. But some local residents have had their fill of the al fresco experience.

They’re fed up with dining spaces clogging sidewalks, taking up parking spots, and tightening already narrow streets, and they want a quick end to the pandemic-era rules that have allowed outdoor dining to sprout.

Gina Lupo was among the North End residents who complained to city officials at a public safety meeting Monday night outside the Nazzaro Community Center.

“I’ve seen a lot of changes in the North End, and not for the better,” said Lupo, a longtime resident. “I can’t even go on the weekends and walk around my neighborhood.”

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“It’s just too many people on the sidewalks, and I can’t even cross the street because I’m gonna get run over by the people driving in the street too fast,” she added.

Diners largely prefer the outdoor experience, saying they still feel safer outside while COVID-19 and the Delta variant continue to thrive; plus the ambience, reminiscent of Europe, can’t be beat.

Restaurant owners say it’s a slim margin that don’t abide by the rules, exacerbating parking, noise, crowd, and garbage issues.

“I’m also a resident of the North End, and I can feel what all the other residents are feeling,” said Nino Trotta, owner of two local restaurants, Libertine and Forcella. “But it’s a very small percentage fueling the anger.”

“From a restaurant’s perspective, this was a gift from God allowing us to have patios outside,” Trotta said.

The city is considering whether to extend outdoor dining into 2022, for a third year. It began during the early months of the pandemic, as the region struggled to restart its economy, and continued into this year.

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Carla Agripino, who grew up in the North End and still lives there, also sees the issue through the lens of a resident as well a restaurant owner. The Cobblestone, one of her three North End restaurants, closed down Sept. 1, 2020.

“I do understand what it is like to lose a business that you’ve worked so hard at for so many years,” Agripino said Tuesday.

She’s grateful that outdoor dining has helped so many survive, herself included, and though not insensitive to the concerns of residents, she thinks outdoor dining has brought “a nice flavor,” a bit of “a European feel” to the already quaint North End.

“I have heard there are incidents later into the night and into the early morning,” Agripino said. “But I think the hours that the restaurants are open, I don’t see a problem.”

Outdoor dining is not a silver bullet every day, Trotta said. Most visitors to the North End gravitate toward Hanover Street, the main drag. Trotta’s restaurants are on nearby Salem Street and North Square.

“We are full on weekends,” Trotta said. “But during the week, not necessarily.”

Such was the case for several Salem Street restaurants Tuesday afternoon, as columns of seating extended off the sidewalk and into the street sat unoccupied amid red shuttered umbrellas. An older model Chevrolet crept through between a border of flower-topped barriers and the curb on the other side.

On Hanover Street, diners found shade from the 88-degree heat beneath awnings and umbrellas.

“I love the outdoor dining, especially on a day like this,” Don Stone, of the metro-Detroit area, said as he finished up lunch with two nieces and a sister-in-law. “It’s perfect.”

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Stone said he ate outside last time he was in the North End a few years ago. It’s part of the North End experience, he said.

Around the corner at Ristorante Limoncello, Tom Scott, of Wellesley, said the restaurants were the heart of the neighborhood.

“We all have to suffer the consequences to preserve the ability for these restaurants to survive,” Scott said.

While dining outside was preferable, ambience-wise, it also felt like the more responsible choice for Jenny Hong and her three children, ages 11, 13, and 15, of San Diego.

“COVID is not quite done yet,” Hong said. “I feel much safer outside eating in these outdoor spaces, especially with my youngest who can’t get vaccinated yet.”

Concerns over the Delta variant have caused a number of recent cancellations at Lucia, Ducali and Filippo in the North End, said managing partner Philip Frattaroli, of Filmark Hospitality Group.

“Even though a lot of people think it’s over, restaurants aren’t out of this by any means,” Frattaroli said. “And we’re grateful for the public space and for municipalities allowing us to do this.

“There just needs to be a conversation about how to make this sustainable for everyone,” he said.

Especially, Frattaroli said, considering the window is so narrow for weather good enough to allow outdoor dining. “We’d like to make this short window work,” he said.

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At Monday’s meeting, several of the 50 attendees said they want their old neighborhood back, minus the heavy crowds and constricted sidewalks. City officials said they would take the concerns to heart.

“The outdoor dining that you see this year, I think it’s better than it was last year,” said Boston Licensing Board chairwoman Kathleen Joyce. “We’re committed to making it better next year.”

Kristen McCosh, disabilities commissioner for the City of Boston, told residents the city would set clearer outdoor-dining guidelines in the future.


Katie Redefer can be reached at katie.redefer@globe.com. Tonya Alanez can be reached at tonya.alanez@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @talanez.