A little less than a year after the introduction of the Mesa CARES initiative, the city of Mesa is creating new programs designed to assist the community during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The city of Mesa introduced the Mesa Open Air Program earlier this month, allowing businesses to apply for approval to use outdoor spaces adjacent to their buildings such as parking lots or grassy areas to continue operating during the pandemic. This followed the introduction of the Mesa Al Fresco program, unveiled by city officials last June, which allowed restaurants to expand outdoor seating. The Mesa Open Air Program was modeled after this effort, but aims to help all businesses, not just restaurants.
“We are hoping that this will be just another way to help support our small businesses and allow them to continue to be successful as the pandemic continues,” Development Services Director Christine Zielonka said.
According to David Valencia, the co-owner of Oro Brewing Company, Mesa CARES and the Al Fresco program have been valuable resources for his business.
“[Mesa CARES] helped with accounting, it helped with the pandemic, it helped with the patio expansion, it helped with legal things; just all kinds of things that we were able to take advantage of,” Valencia said.
With the onset of the pandemic, businesses faced unprecedented challenges.
“It was a very rough six or seven months. We pretty much had a loss from April to September. We were able to get some P.P.E. (personal protective equipment) which helped keep the employees going, but it didn’t really help us with sales. It was a rough patch,” Valencia said.
The Al Fresco program allowed a number of local restaurants to expand their patio areas and safely accommodate more customers. Worth Takeaway employee Juniper Walkenbach said the program actually allowed Worth Takeaway to stay busy during the pandemic.
“Since the Al Fresco program opened up, we’ve been able to expand our patio and do picnic tables on both sides. It has been a lot busier since we’ve been able to expand our patio,” Walkenbach said.
“We were limited on the inside, but to be able to expand outside we gained an extra ten spaces or so. It definitely helped us do more sales,” Valencia said.
Walkenbach said that the Mesa community is small but tight knit and emphasized the importance of local businesses within the community. Mesa Development Services Small Business Assistant Heather Omta said proactive measures by the city have not only helped businesses survived but helped in the continuing revitalization of downtown Mesa.
“I believe taking the dining experience outside and enhanced patios have helped re-activate the vibe and energy of Downtown Mesa. Several restaurants and bars across Mesa have created large patios in their parking lots which has generated a variety of fun, spacious patio options for diners to enjoy,” Omta said.
David Valencia of Oro Brewing said he recommends that other businesses take advantage of Mesa CARES because the city has set it up so that businesses can quickly get help if they need it.
“The city has been very helpful in walking people through things. If somebody is interested in applying for that but they don’t quite know what they need to do, I’m sure that the city will give them a lot of help in getting through the process,” Valencia said.
More information on the Mesa CARES initiative and corresponding relief programs can be found at /www.mesaaz.gov/government/mesa-cares.