Eyes on the Street: Swapping Parking for Customer Seating Is a Smart Move

Colectivo Coffee, 2535 N. Clark. Photo: Michelle Stenzel
Colectivo Coffee, 2535 N. Clark. Photo: Michelle Stenzel

More and more, merchants are beginning to understand that their bottom line depends less on the number of vehicles they can park than the number of customers they can accommodate. As such, we’re seeing a positive trend towards restaurant, coffee shop, and bar owners owners choosing up asphalt for cars to provide seating for patrons. We’ve seen this in several parts of town where curbside parking spaces and loading zones have been swapped for “People Spot” mini parks and cafe seating, such as the nifty new parklet by Intelligentsia Coffee in Logan Square.

I'll take a macchiato over macadam any day. Images: Michelle Stenzel, Google Street View
I’ll take a macchiato at Colectivo over macadam any day. Images: Michelle Stenzel, Google Street View

Streetsblog Chicago reader Michelle Stenzel (who has written her own excellent livable streets blog Bike Walk Lincoln Park) recently reminded Steven Vance and me of another awesome type of repurposing of blacktop: when restauranteurs choose to use their parking lots for seating instead of warehousing automobiles. As you can see from the above before-and-after photos, Colectivo Coffee, 2535 N. Clark, wisely chose to transform an ugly five-car parking lot into a vibrant patio with colorful tables and chairs, lovely planter boxes, and even a fire pit. This makeover doesn’t just boost sales for the cafe; it helps beautify Clark Street.

Pizza > parking at Gino's East. Images: Google Street View.
Pizza > parking at Gino’s East. Images: Google Street View.

This reminded us of some other great parking lot makeovers in Chicago. There’s Gino’s East pizzeria, 2801 N. Lincoln, which transforms an awkward triangular parking lot into outdoor seating during the warm months.

Image: google Street View
Heritage Bikes and Coffee. Image: Google Street View

Just up the street at 2959 N. Lincoln, Heritage Bikes and Coffee also uses their adjacent parking lot space for cafe seating, planters, and bike racks. (They used to have a nice parklet on Lincoln as well, but last year Lakeview’s Special Service Area 27 decided that the curbside mini park should be relocated to a new home on the 3300 block, by Dinkel’s Bakery.)

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What was once parking for 13 cars at the Golden Angel is now seating for dozens of customers at Lou Malnatti’s. Photos: Google Street View

And when Lou Malnati’s pizzeria recently replaced the Golden Angel diner at 4340 N. Lincoln last year, they replaced the 13-spot parking lot with outdoor seating and additional greenery. (What is it about Lincoln Avenue and pizzerias that encourages parking/seating swaps?)

Have we forgotten any other noteworthy examples of establishments trading parking for patrons? Let us know in the comments section.