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OPINION: Nelson sidewalk dining celebrated 38 years later

Former mayor Gerald Rotering writes about what started the city’s patio culture

By Gerald Rotering, former Nelson mayor

Back in 1984 Nelson’s Baker Street was pretty boring, with no patios of any kind. City bylaws prohibited commercial use of outdoor public spaces, but as a recently elected mayor I wanted to change that and finally found a restaurant-owning couple willing to help make it happen.

Offering to work together were Con and Linda Diamond, who had two years earlier opened the Main Street Diner.

Con said that he didn’t think he’d make money out there, but that bistro tables and chairs would show folks that there was a restaurant inside. Con wrote a letter of application to the city, and council and I then asked staff to write bylaw changes. By the spring of 1985 legal permission and fees were in place, so Main Street Diner patrons could sit outside as pedestrians admired what they were having, and demanded more tables and chairs.

Con recalls that stars and staff filming comedian Steve Martin’s movie Roxanne made demand far exceed supply, so he was soon asking the city to also rent the restaurant a parking stall.

Another bylaw change made that possible, and temporary on-the-pavement dining soon became modular extended patios, not only at the Main Street Diner but along the length of Baker Street where other restaurants and bars scrambled to catch up.

Thirty-eight years later, I congratulated Con this month for having been the first, so that today Nelson offers what is probably B.C.’s finest downtown pedestrian and European-style outdoor dining experience.

Con and Linda Diamond are long retired, with the diner run by their son Nicolas. I’m also retired and live in Victoria, but with family members still living here I can sometimes be seen dining or sipping a brew on a Baker Street patio.