City extends social zones through November 2022

Published on October 20, 2021

Diners enjoy the Bridge Street Social Zone. Photo courtesy of Experience Grand Rapids.


Photo courtesy of Experience Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The popular expanded seating and refreshment areas throughout Grand Rapids’ downtown and neighborhood business districts will stick around a little longer. The Grand Rapids City Commission acted last week to extend the zones, which anchor the seven social district “refreshment areas” through November 1, 2022. The Commission also voted to allow certain temporary outdoor uses and structures on private property through that date.

During COVID in 2020 the City of Grand Rapids created social zones which allow groups of businesses to expand outdoor seating. In some cases, establishments sell alcohol “to-go” so people can carry a drink outside without needing to sit at a single bar or restaurant. Since that time, the Michigan Liquor Control Commission issued social district permits for at least 60 Grand Rapids businesses to sell alcoholic beverages for consumption within the districts – the largest number (by nearly double) for any Michigan municipality. To discover a Grand Rapids Refreshment Area, visit:

The Commission took action to extend the zones on public property and private property outdoor uses for another year as the pandemic continues to cause significant economic disruption worldwide and within the local business community. The move aligns with objectives contained in the Economic Prosperity and Affordability priority outlined in the City’s strategic plan.

Lou Canfield, chief of staff in the City Executive Office, said that while nearly all businesses have been negatively impacted, restaurants and bars have been especially impacted. He said that after a nearly two-month ban on indoor dining last winter, indoor restaurant occupancy was initially resumed at just 25% of normal levels on February 1; was expanded to 50% of normal levels on March 5; and was restored to full occupancy this past July.

“Despite the restoration to full occupancy, some consumers are wary of indoor public spaces due to health concerns,” Canfield said. “This caution may continue through the upcoming winter given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. For these reasons, the Commission voted unanimously to help support local businesses through the upcoming season amid the ongoing pandemic while also mitigating some consumers’ concerns.”

The popularity of the social zones has been reinforced in two separate recent surveys. In a general population Flashvote survey (+/- 4% Margin of error) conducted Oct 12 to 14:

  • 86% of respondents rated their experience with the social zones good or excellent
  • 69% of respondents like the expanded outdoor seating and the to-go alcohol sales
  • 82% would like to see social zones continued after COVID

Business interview/survey responses compiled by Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. showed that social zones were effective in maintaining overall pedestrian traffic at approximately its 2019 level in the face of a 48% general decrease during the first year of the pandemic.

Despite the social zone extension, Canfield said that some of the existing zones will be adjusted ahead of the upcoming winter season to accommodate snow removal, stormwater drainage, and other seasonal service requirements. Some seating areas will be removed, and the footprint of others will be reduced, in consultation with partner organizations and nearby businesses.

To read the full Social Zones survey results visit: To participate in future FlashVote surveys issued by the City of Grand Rapids, visit All individual votes are anonymous. FlashVote does not share personal information.

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