Grand Rapids extends use of social zones

Courtesy city of Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids social zone permits now are extended through Nov. 1, 2022.

The Grand Rapids City Commission recently approved the extension of Grand Rapids social zones and certain temporary outdoor structures on private property for another year, as the pandemic continues to impact business operations of local restaurants. Part of the extension includes the approval of establishments selling alcohol to go, allowing individuals to carry a drink through public areas within approved social districts without needing to sit at a single bar or restaurant.

The vote to extend the duration of the seven social district “refreshment areas” aligns with a portion of the city’s strategic plan concerning “economic prosperity and affordability.”

“Despite the restoration to full occupancy, some consumers are wary of indoor public spaces due to health concerns,” said Lou Canfield, chief of staff in the city executive office.  “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.”

Canfield said through consultation with affected businesses, some seating areas of existing social zones will be removed, and footprints of others will be adjusted or reduced prior to the upcoming winter season to accommodate snow removal, stormwater drainage and other required seasonal services.

Canfield also said while the pandemic negatively impacted nearly all businesses, restaurants especially were impacted after a two-month indoor dining ban last winter and drastic indoor occupancy restrictions through July.

Surveys conducted by Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. showed social zones helped to maintain overall pedestrian traffic closer to 2019 levels, as compared to the 48% general traffic decrease in 2020.

Grand Rapids now holds at least 60 social district permits issued by the Michigan Liquor Control Commission, accounting for the largest number of permits issued in the state by nearly double that of any other municipality.

A general population FlashVote survey conducted from Oct. 12-14 (+/- 4% margin of error) also showed the popularity of the social districts, with 82% of respondents saying they would like to see social zones continued after COVID and another 69% saying they liked the expanded outdoor seating and to-go alcohol sales. In the same survey, 86% of respondents rated their experience with the social zones as good or excellent.

More information on social districts is available at

Those interested in participating in future FlashVote surveys issued by the city of Grand Rapids can visit

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