At the end of December the city of Niles caught my attention with a new and creative way to help their local restaurants struggling during the pandemic.

City leaders came up with a plan that would essentially shut down a block of their downtown area and, instead, turn it into an outdoor dining district. It was an experiment that turned out to be quite successful.

As reported by, the Niles Outdoor Dining Experience, otherwise known as NODE, has been recognized as the best outdoor dining area in southwest Michigan.

According to Niles' Mayor, Nick Shelton, it started as a 3 week trial that has now been extended through mid-April because of its popularity. As a former Floridian, my first thought was, "but what about all the snow and how do you stay warm?" something that, obviously, was considered by city leadership.

Through community partners, snow shoveling and trash removal have been taken care of and they were able to install a giant fire pit too. Now, more than 20 Niles businesses are involved and were, mostly likely, saved thanks to this idea. I said this when I first heard about this - it's absolutely genius. Not to mention, so refreshing to see a city making real steps to lend a hand to their local businesses. You can see Mayor Nick Shelton's interview with below.

If you plan to visit Niles to check out their outdoor dining keep in mind that it tends to be busier on the weekends.

The NODE was voted best outdoor dining in SW Michigan through a poll conducted by If you'd like to see the other winners across the state of Michigan you can do so here.

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