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Henry Rinehart

May 7, 2020
Harlem, NYC

A Safe Space -
Open Streets + Retail Rescue
How our path to sustainable prosperity is literally under
our feet and outside our front door
A letter to my fellow foodies

My Dear Colleagues

I am so happy that we are all coming together at this moment of need. Never

before have I experienced such communication and collaboration among leaders in

the hospitality industry. Historically, we’ve treated each other as competitors in this

hungry city and nationally. Our time for urgent action is now and we must come

together if we are to survive.

Chef Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune spoke for many of us when she said, “…the

coronavirus did not suddenly shine light on an unknown fragility. We’ve all known,

and for a rather long time. The past five or six years have been alarming.” I personally

closed my restaurant, Henry's, at the end of 2018, after a nearly 20 year run. Opening

in 1999, literally last century, I repaid my partners’ initial investment in 18 months, and

we all made mad bank for over a decade. We then signed another fifteen year lease,

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and watched our profitability disappear. And, that was before this global pandemic.

Our industry and our way of life has been under siege for many years. The

simultaneous shuttering of all of our businesses has brought us together in our hour

of need. We are all now one industry, collectively fighting for our very survival.

In this fight there will be only one dish on the menu of the near future - Safety.

Restaurateurs and chefs will prepare, sell and serve only this one item as they try to

reopen. We all must operate safely if we are to continue to support staff, guests,

vendors, landlords, tax collectors, and our families. Everyone is trying to figure out
how to serve guests in a way that will make them willing and able to patronize what

are now storefront businesses. Everyone is united in the battle to serve safely, and, in

an age of social distancing, safety requires space.

Restaurateurs and chefs are already experts on safety and space. We have all

spent more hours on health safety compliance than our fellow executives in most

other industries. We have also spent endless hours negotiating the most efficient use

of space in the design and operation of our restaurants. Urban restaurateurs are

experts in the best practices for protecting the public health and the efficient use of
space.

As well as being a successful restaurateur on Broadway for over two decades, I

have proudly served on the Transportation Alternatives’ Advisory Council for over a

decade with David Byrne and many other illustrious New Yorkers. I have been a

transportation advocate for over three decades in a desperate fight to save our city

and my life as a dedicated cyclist. I have commuted by bike since my very first job in a

restaurant when I was sixteen. I have biked the mean streets of NYC since 1979. I was

a bike messenger in NYC in 1980, and survived more crashes with cars then I care to

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count. I have also managed professional delivery riders in NYC for over thirty years.

My restaurant, Henry's, sponsored a professional bicycle racing team that competed

in the tour of China. Our team worked with TA to develop and publish the Biking

Rules used by the NYC DOT to train and regulate delivery cyclists. Henry's was one of

the first businesses to support DOT’s Bike Corral program. During this pandemic, my

worlds of business and advocacy have collided in a way that gives me great hope.

This collision has happened on the formerly vibrant streets of our city.

Transportation is another thing that we all have had in common besides the life-
altering event of this pandemic. Every single one of us uses transportation every day.

We all commute. All retail business take deliveries and most make deliveries. Foot

traffic has always been the life blood of our business, and that was before we were all

forced into the delivery business.

Many of you have been following Mayor deBlasio’s plan to open 100 miles of

our city streets to allow for the space necessary for safety and social distancing. For

those of you who have not been following closely, open streets are a modern urban

transportation design in which valuable public space is given to pedestrians, cyclists,


emergency vehicles, and buses. In a world of open streets, the vast amount of public

space that we give over to the use and free parking of the private motor vehicle is re-

purposed for the greater civil good.

Cities across our country and across the world are employing open streets to

save the lives of citizens, save retail businesses, and save the very air we breathe.

London, Paris, Barcelona, Bogota, Lima, Milan, Berlin, Santa Monica, and Oakland

have all recognized this new understanding of the modern streetscape. Urban

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communities can no longer afford the luxury of unfettered private motor vehicle use

in our city centers.

Currently, one of the most compelling examples of the growing open streets

movement is taking place in the capital of Lithuania, Vilnius. The mayor of this

gorgeous world heritage site has opened the narrow streets throughout the city

center. His plan has expanded space in the streets for restaurants and cafés to serve al

fresco. Additionally, the mayor has given €400 to every essential worker to be spent

exclusively in the city’s restaurants and cafés.

I am writing to you today because there is a solution to our current problem.

Open streets are literally sitting in front of every single one of our businesses. Safe

and open streets generate foot traffic, the life blood of every retail business. Every

person in our city uses open streets on their way to work, and as they patronize our

businesses. It is time that we demand our fair share of access to this vital public space.

The time for action is now. Operators around the world know that weather is the

single largest driver of demand. NYC operators know that each side of the street is its
own micro-climate. Micro-climates don’t just determine the quality of wine, they also

determine the success of dining al fresco. The demand for our services will explode in

the coming weeks, and we would do well to be prepared to safely welcome our

guests with open arms.

Please join me in supporting the movement for open streets in New York City.

Our fearless advocate, Andrew Rigie of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, is writing an op-

ed piece this week on open streets. Please let him know what you think both about

his op-ed and how open streets can best serve the needs of your business and your

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community. Transportation Alternatives’ new leader, Danny Harris, and his team have

built a wonderful web site to serve the needs of the Open Streets Coalition. Please

support their work.

I have posted press references and research on this topic on my website, Henry

Rinehart.Media. Please click through, and enjoy the success stories born of open

streets around the world. Please read the research by our own DOT on the “Economic

Benefits of Sustainable Streets.” Open streets should be available to each and

everyone of us.

David Helbraun has done so much for all of us. He has set the table for us to talk

to each other, to our landlords and others, all the while guiding us with expert legal

counsel. He has modeled a new post-pandemic paradigm for business - working

together for the good of all. Please let David know your thoughts when you call him

to say thank you.

I encourage you to make plans for what you think are the most feasible open

streets adjacent to your business, keeping in mind that public transit is our friend, and
buses require street space too. Talk to your colleagues about your ideas for open

streets, and share best practices with each other. Finally, talk to everyone you know

(esp. landlords, vendors, and politicians) about open streets. You have supported

them all for years, and now it’s time to call in favors, while continuing to work

together. This is our moment of need, and we need a solution that positively impacts

every single one of us. The solution lies in our open streets.

May we all be together again soon, while dining in our open streets.

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Cheers,

Henry

#OpenStreets

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