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Downtown Providence roars back to life

“Providence is open for business and we are excited to safely welcome folks back to our vibrant downtown,” Mayor Jorge Elorza said.

People outside of Ellie’s in Providence.
People outside of Ellie’s in Providence.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

PROVIDENCE — Flowers are blooming, people are getting vaccinated, and downtown Providence is finally coming back to life as COVID-19 pandemic restrictions lift.

Outside of Ellie’s, a Parisian-style bakery known for croissants, artsy custom cakes, and macaroons the colors of Easter eggs, Mayor Jorge O. Elorza joined area hospitality leaders to celebrate that “downtown is open.”

Starting this weekend, a series of road closures will be in effect as parklets, outdoor al fresco dining options, special pop-up events, and arts and entertainment programming take place for spring, running through the fall.

“Providence is open for business and we are excited to safely welcome folks back to our vibrant downtown,” said Elorza.

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Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza outside of Ellie’s in Providence. The Mayor along with restaurant and hospitality leaders were gathered to celebrate Downtown Is Open, with outdoor al fresco dining options, parklets, road closures, special events, and arts and entertainment.
Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza outside of Ellie’s in Providence. The Mayor along with restaurant and hospitality leaders were gathered to celebrate Downtown Is Open, with outdoor al fresco dining options, parklets, road closures, special events, and arts and entertainment.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

For the last 14 months, downtown Providence has not been able to open like the rest of the state. Last summer, when travelers were able to social distance while hiking the cliffs on Block Island or walking along the mansions in Newport, downtown Providence appeared to be a ghost town. Many eateries remain closed for half of the week, including Ellie’s, which is open until 4 p.m. Thursday through Sundays. Events in the area have largely been put on hold, the Rhode Island Convention Center has stayed closed after being pressed into service as a field hospital for Lifespan, and the Dunkin Donuts Center, was once a COVID-19 testing site, is now a mass vaccination site.

The restaurants that depend on the conferences, meetings, and tourism that floods through Providence during a typical year have all felt the effects of the pandemic. But, Elorza says, it’s time to reopen, and invest.

“As we continue the process of reopening, we want to support our local creative economy by investing in our artists and entrepreneurs, strengthening our workforce, and encouraging residents and visitors to experience our world-class small businesses, restaurants, and local shops,” he said.

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ThinkPVD, a campaign to “redefine how people experience our world-class creative community, unique neighborhoods, rich cultural life, and all our local economy has to offer,” has launched, and business owners can go to the website to help expand their business this year.

An interactive map of all the outdoor events, public art to view, boutiques to poke in, parking, hotels, and dining can be viewed here.

The city will be waiving fees for special event permits, and a special team will help event producers implement COVID-19 guidelines during events permitted by the city. There will be two hours of free parking in designated commercial districts throughout the city, and Elorza said a webinar series to help businesses navigate the special event, outdoor dining, and expansion of premise applications will soon be launched.

Cliff Wood, executive director of the Providence Foundation, said downtown is ready for a “comeback.”

“From the Trinity Beer Garden in Biltmore Park, to roller skating at the Bank Newport City Center, to Open Air Saturdays on Westminster Street, to outdoor dining options, downtown is open for business and poised for an incredible comeback,” he said.

Julia Broome opened Kin Southern Table + Bar in mid-March and it’s becoming a comfort food hotspot among locals, with menu options including fried green tomatoes, collard greens with smoked turkey and potlicker, and cocktails like “Black Girl Magic.”

She said by working with the city, she’s been able to open up an outdoor dining area that’s quickly become very popular, easing the challenges of opening a new restaurant in the midst of the pandemic.

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“There’s no question that the pandemic has been tough on downtown, but with nicer weather finally here and the great package of flexibilities for restaurants the City has developed, we’re excited for a great spring, summer, and fall ahead,” said Ellen Slattery, the owner of both Ellie’s bakery and Gracie’s, a fine dining spot which offers a five-course tasting menu for $100.

Lauren Lynch is the co-owner of Kleos, a traditional Greek spot with Meze plates and roasted lamb, and Rosalinas, an Italian restaurant with ginormous cheese and charcuterie plates as well as standards like New York strip with a mushroom wine sauce and a side of double-baked mash. Both spots have been known for their “igloos” that have held diners throughout the winter.

”We’re taking advantage of outdoor dining and road closures to create new spaces for our customers to enjoy a meal downtown,” said Lynch.

Starting May 8, Open Air Saturdays are back on Westminster Street between Eddy and Union Streets from noon to 6 p.m. All vehicle traffic will be closed there during that time. Participating businesses include Craftland, Queen of Hearts, Modern Love, Small Point Cafe, Sura, Symposium Books & Records, Oberlin, Kleos, The Vault Collective, Civil, Homestyle, and Eno Fine Wines & Spirits.

Live music performances in collaboration with Providence World Music will take place in the area, and there will be a rotating selection of food trucks as well.

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Here are the road closures due to outdoor dining:

  • G-Pub Beer Garden, Orange Street
  • Open Air Saturdays, Westminster Street between Union & Eddy
  • Oberlin, Union Street Between Westminster & Weybosset
  • The Rosendale, Union Street Between Washington and Worcester
  • Kin Southern Table + Bar, Union Street Between Washington and Worcester
  • The Providence Eagle, Snow Street between Westminster & Weybosset
  • The Alley Cat, Snow Street between Westminster & Washington
  • The Eddy 95, Middle Street expansion
  • Gracie’s, Aborn Street Between Westminster & Washington
  • Rosalina’s, Aborn Street Between Westminster & Washington
  • Murphy’s, Sidewalk and Parking spots, Fountain Street
  • North, Sidewalk and Parking spots, Fountain Street
  • Downcity Food Tours, Roaming

Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz.