‘The side streets would be better’: Collapsed Chelsea shed renews debate over outside dining

A dilapidated outside dining space on West 29th Street and 8th Avenue, just outside of Salumeria Biellese Delicatessen in Chelsea, is sowing the seeds of concern as legislature eyes making the sheds a permanent fixture in the Big Apple.

The shed’s windows and some wall panels still stand, but the rest of the structure is nothing but a heap of snapped wood, broken glass and rusted nails. According to locals, the dining shed — which sits next to a main road along 8th Avenue – was left in shambles after being hit by a drive not too long ago, and has since been rotting.

For many in the area, the damp lumber that once housed eager eaters is a showcase that outside dining can not only be an eyesore, but also a danger to New Yorkers inhabiting them.

“When I saw it, [the shed,] I’m surprised nobody has been killed,” Andrew Mulherm explained to amNewYork Metro, who lives in the Chelsea area. “I saw they started doing demolition yesterday. I think outside dining is great in the right areas, but not in places like this, it’s too dangerous. The side streets would be better.” 

This isn’t the first time Manhattanites have expressed their outrage over what they feel is a blight on their community. In December, East Village residents lamented the noise and pests left behind as a result of graffiti-smeared shacks. However, with the huts being erected beside busy roadways the question of diners’ safety is also being raised.   

Pieces of the structure are piled beside the sidewalk. Photo by Dean Moses

Emily Fontinella sees things a little differently. Living in New Jersey, but frequently visiting Manhattan, she believes that during the warmer months outside dining sheds have opened new opportunities for restaurants and visitors.

Looking down at the crumbling pieces of the decrepit shed on the corner of 29th Street and 8th Avenue, Fontinella doesn’t see an eyesore but a symbol of investment a restaurant owner made to save their business, but the structure could not weather the storm of COVID, the difficult economy, and so much more.  

“It’s a shame, I think this was once put to really good use but it’s a shame because they invested a lot and now it’s gone,” Fontinella said, “It’s the first time that I’ve seen an outside dining shed like this. I love the outdoor seating, just really when it’s warmer out.”

On Feb. 5, protesters gathered in Greenwich Village calling for an end to outside dining huts, deeming them disgusting shanties that have increased trash in New York City’s streets. Organized by the Coalition United for Equitable Urban Policy, the biggest complaint is that residential areas have been transformed into outdoor clubs, causing noise pollution well into the night and other quality of life issues. 

Approximately 12,000 restaurants in New York City are participating in the outside dining program — a much-needed boost for the food industry after the pandemic shuttered thousands of businesses. Yet, since its inception, restaurant owners have regularly scrambled to meet guideline changes and faced complaints about cleanliness and structural issues.

And this week, the City Council is expected to begin reviewing legislation to make the outdoor dining program permanent.