Many Santa Barbara residents enjoy the new flavor of State Street
Rollerbladers, skateboarders and bicyclists whiz past on the open road, jamming to music from a speaker.
Dogs of all shapes and sizes tug on their leashes with excitement. Residents sip on drinks under strings of lights as the sun sets. Restaurant employees delight at the ability to serve eager customers once again.
Ever since the city sealed off traffic, many Santa Barbara residents have flocked to the new State Street promenade. Suffering a heavy blow from the COVID-19 lockdown, many popular restaurants, bars and shops could finally open their doors back up again, with a few adjustments that actually made many customers happier.
To maintain social distancing, businesses on State Street moved tables and chairs outside, creating a lively promenade bustling with activity. Although this change was an effort to lessen COVID-19 risk, some residents and service employees say they want it to stay this way. While the majority of visitors wear masks, some don’t.
Chris Conte and Rose LeDonne enjoyed some ice cream as they sauntered down State Street, admiring the buzz.
“I think it should always stay closed. This is great,” Mr. Conte said. “You don’t have to worry about cars, and you can walk up and down. It’s wide open.”
Ms. LeDonne concurred.
“I love it,” she said. “I think it encourages you to stroll up and down. It’s more relaxed and you feel safer.”
Deborah Bahre, the assistant manager of Joe’s Cafe at 536 State St., said she thinks the homeless population has gone down by “probably 75%.”
“Customers love it,” she said. “This allows us to make up for the time we’ve been closed. We have to hire additional staff, which creates more jobs. It’s really nice.”
Joe’s Cafe was one of many that expanded their seating area to the street. According to Ms. Bahre, having outdoor seating is “huge” for business.
“I think they should keep (State Street) closed so that in the long run, all these businesses can survive,” said Alfredo Arroyo, a bartender at Joe’s. “I think it’s good for everyone. It’s good for the community; it’s good for the whole city.”
The booming business resulting in long lines and squeezing in between tables could potentially increase close proximity interactions, thereby increasing the COVID-19 risk. The county reported 67 COVID-19 cases Friday. However, those wandering on the street don’t seem overly concerned.
“I think at the beginning, there was a lot of trying to figure things out and follow the rules and regulations, but this has been a big saving grace for a lot of the businesses on State Street,” said Justin Fitzgerald, the manager of The Cruisery, a brewery at 501 State St. “I would say we’re basically as busy as before, if not busier because of the street closing.”
He said he believes the 500 block should “definitely” stay as a promenade, adding that he doesn’t see the benefit of people driving up and down anyway since “there’s no window shopping and no one’s doing the whole cruising that they used to do.”
“At least 80% of the people that I talk to that walk by, whether they eat here or not, are like, ‘This should stay. This needs to be the new norm,’” Mr. Fitzgerald said. “I think the general consensus feels that way.”