L+I letters demanding removal of “street furniture” during DNC scare restaurants in miscommunication

When Matt Levinson returned from an out-of-town trip, the manager of his Graduate Hospital restaurant, The Quick Fixx, handed him the kind of letter no owner wants to see: demands from Licenses + Inspections (L+I). The Democratic National Convention (DNC) was coming, the notice explained, and Philadelphia had to get ready for guests. To that end, L+I had a few requests for business owners like Levinson, including: “Benches, flower pots, and other types of non-permanent ‘street furniture’ shall be removed to allow full access to the footway.”

The Quick Fixx is one of over 400 restaurants, cafes, and bars in the Greater Center City area authorized to offer sidewalk seating, a major draw for the fast casual restaurant. “The way [L+I] representatives made [Non-permanent street furniture] sound, it was like if it’s not anchored to the ground, then it has to be gone for that week,” said Levinson.

From a plain reading of the letter, that’s what it sounded like: Regardless of previous authorizations or permits, owners had to remove the street furniture in front of their businesses.

But this is much ado about nothing, says spokesperson Karen Guss: Just a simple misunderstanding.

The letter only applies to unauthorized street furniture, not properly permitted sidewalk cafes or parklets, like the one outside Quick Fixx. “If its an authorized or permitted thing, then you’re good,” said Guss.

The letter is aimed at the kind of minor violations that L+I usually doesn’t spend a lot of time cracking down on: A-frame, or sandwich board, signs; small planters; unsecured dumpsters; and unauthorized seating. Unauthorized items like these can block the sidewalk and are technically code violations, but L+I usually only does something if there are complaints. In The Quick Fixx’s case, they sometimes put out an A-frame sign, which is likely the reason why they received the notice.

Once assured that the city wasn’t gunning for the authorized parklet seating outside the restaurant, Levinson went from agitated to understanding. “We look forward to having a great experience during the DNC,” he said.

The notice effectively warns businesses that L+I will be extra diligent during the week of the DNC, from July 20th to July 28th. The DNC will run between July 25th and July 28th. L+I sent letters to potentially offending businesses across the Greater Center City Area (Spring Garden to South, river to river) and along the South Broad Street corridor—areas expected to see larger crowds during the DNC.  

“I actually thought the letter was nice,” said John Longacre, president of the Philadelphia Tavern Owners Association and no stranger to L+I fights himself. “Most of those are already code violations.”

“I actually like this new L+I!”

According to Guss, that was the sole purpose of the notice: “If you have stuff out that isn’t authorized, this is a good time to take it in.”

The City of Philadelphia, in coordination with the DNC host committee and the U.S. Secret Service, decided to send the letter to promote pedestrian safety, said Lauren Hitt, spokesperson for Mayor Jim Kenney.

Concern about protestors was also a factor. “While we think it’s unlikely they would be, we also want to avoid these items being misappropriated by demonstrators,” said Hitt.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal