Businesses oppose West Victoria Street closure
To help support and accommodate local restaurants who cannot seat customers inside, the city of Santa Barbara sealed off all traffic from West Victoria Street, from State Street to Chapala Street on Thursday.
Mimicking the closure of State Street downtown to create a promenade, the closure aims to help restaurants within the Public Market, along with Scarlett Begonia, Olio E Limone and bouchon.
While restaurant owners praised the decision of the city, business owners also in the area expressed concern with how their businesses will be affected, and some said they felt they weren’t considered in the decision-making process.
Jill Seltzer is the managing director of the Ensemble Theatre Company at The New Vic, located at 33 W. Victoria St.
“Ensemble Theatre Company only learned about the proposed closure of the block of West Victoria on which The New Vic sits in the past few days,” Ms. Seltzer told the News-Press. “We do have some long-term concerns about what the decision means for ETC and The New Vic, and we look forward to addressing those concerns with the city.”
Nikki Ayers owns Ayers Automotive Repairs at 1301 Chapala St. She has run the business in that location for 43 years.
“I’ve still not had one person from the city contact me, which I think is wrong,” she said to the News-Press. “I think I deserve some consideration. I don’t think anybody’s really taken into account the bigger picture here.”
Ms. Ayers said changing the traffic flow will be difficult for her repair shop, and she now has to figure out new ways and marketing strategies to direct her customers to the right place.
“The majority of my customers are older and we try to keep them away from the corridor where the bus station is so they’re out of the buses,” she said. “So having them come over from the Riviera just down and over Victoria is simple. It’s easy.”
Now, she fears her customers being able to find her shop and getting around the heavily trafficked area.
In addition, Ms. Ayers is worried about the parking spaces that will be removed, cars that drop off handicapped individuals in front of the restaurants, delivery trucks and what she sees as an unnatural detour.
“I have to pay (the downtown organization fee) just like everybody else here has to pay it, so I think I should be considered,” the owner said. “I think parklets were a good idea, so what’s wrong with a parklet over here on Victoria street?”
She said she tried contacting the city prior to the closure to express her opposition, but when she did that, she was asked to prove how this would negatively affect her business.
“I have to prove to them how it’s going to harm my business such as car count and things like that. How can I tell them that? I don’t know. And I don’t think that’s my job to tell them. I think it’s their job to do a study themselves,” Ms. Ayers said. She added that she “can’t get a straight answer out of anybody” about how long it’s going to last.
On top of that, she said she only had a few days to speak up.
“I fully feel for the smaller businesses and restaurants, but I’m a small business too,” she said. “Not everybody’s happy.”
In addition, she mentioned that if it came down to a petition for a permanent closure, “I will fight that.”
Marge Cafarelli, the owner of the Public Market, called the closure a “lifeline.”
“I’ve been communicating with Ensemble and there’s no issue with traffic flow,” she said. “We’ve left a whole lane for emergency vehicles. Ensemble isn’t blocked at all.
“I’m very happy. The Public Market has already got about 60 seats out in the street,” Ms. Cafarelli told the News-Press. “This is all when we’re shut down. When we get back up and running and Ensemble is able to seat people, that will be a happy day because we’ll be able to seat people inside, too.”
Mitchell Sjerven, the owner of bouchon, said he’s a “huge fan” of the closure.
“I know there was some controversy with some of the blocks on State Street, but we were universal in our approach here because we’re all more or less in the same boat,” he told the News-Press. “Businesses and restaurants love the idea of being able to have this street for our guests to be able to dine safely outside.
“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity to try to enhance what we’ve already started on State Street and see what sort of impact it could have with a side street in conjunction. It’s probably the best place to experiment with it. We have the highest concentration of restaurants in Santa Barbara besides the Funk Zone.”