Retailers, restaurants share vision for downtown moving forward
Although closing off State Street to vehicular traffic was an emergency move during the pandemic, it’s looking more and more like the promenade is here to stay.
The American Institute of Architects presented the results of a downtown charrette to Santa Barbara’s City Council last week, and according to a survey with nearly 5,000 responses, 84% of residents want a permanent promenade on State Street.
Support for making the promenade permanent came from many restaurants in the 500 block of State Street as well, including The Cruisery and Joe’s Cafe.
However, the promenade extends all the way up to the 1300 block too, and for the most part, businesses farther up want the promenade long-term, as well.
Bryan Simorangkir is a co-owner of Sama Sama Kitchen, an Asian fusion restaurant in the 1200 block of State Street.
“For starters, locals hate driving on State Street anyway,” he told the News-Press. “It’s the worst street to drive on because there’s so many people, so there’s no point.”
He said he also supports the idea of creating more housing units downtown.
“I think if people actually lived downtown, they would revitalize it. With no one living here, no one cares about it,” Mr. Simorangkir said.
The co-owner added that if there was one thing he would ask for, it would be for the street to possibly be open in the morning from 6 to 8 a.m. for deliveries. Currently, he had to buy himself a cart to haul things inside.
However, the restaurant owner said he prefers State Street closed.
Jen Bouma owns Chicken Little, the toy store in the 1200 block of State Street.
“I love it (the promenade). I’m so, so happy about it,” she told the News-Press. “Now, people have more space to walk around, and I love the European feel of having all the sidewalk cafes.”
She said it has “definitely” helped business throughout the pandemic.
“I think it’s great — I would just like to see a greater plan that says, ‘Where do you walk? Where do you bike?’” Ms. Bouma said.
Not every business on State Street supports the closure, though.
Ed Brown, the owner of Open Air Bicycles in the 1300 block of State Street, expressed a few concerns for his business, as it lies directly on the corner of State and Victoria Streets, both of which are currently closed.
“It really stifled our business,” he told the News-Press. “No one can get to our shop. We’re trapped here. We have one space to park and people from the Westside can’t even get here unless they go all the way around.”
He said the nature of his business doesn’t quite align with closed streets.
“At our shop, people bring stuff in — it’s not coming in and taking out,” Mr. Brown said. “They need to park and be able to unload bicycles. We have some families with five bicycles that need service done. How do you want to carry five of these bicycles down the street?”
Open Air Bicycles’ sales have dropped, but the store has never been busier for bike repairs, according to the owner.
“I think the promenade makes sense for a short period where the most impacted businesses are, but way up here in this neighborhood, I don’t think we need a promenade up here,” he said. “I think the promenade makes sense, maybe more south of Carrillo.”
He added that he thinks the promenade is good in areas with good parking structures, so visitors can park their cars, get out and walk along the promenade.
“Anything that doesn’t have the support of parking that’s north or south of it, I think, should be back to regular State Street,” Mr. Brown said. “I’m not against this. This is good.
“It just needs to be thought out better. I’d like to see a master plan, and the businesses should be involved.”
The owner also said he supports the closure, even in front of his business, during COVID-19, because he understands everyone is going through difficult times.
Mr. Brown’s neighbor in the 1300 block, Fine Fabrics of Santa Barbara, has more parking than Open Air Bicycles does.
Fine Fabrics Owner Susanne Chess is in support of the promenade.
“I like the way it is because my clients want to park,” she told the News-Press. “For us, the parking is necessary, because unlike the other blocks of State Street, we don’t have parking behind us, so parking is a challenge for this block anyways.
“But once they put the parking in, it was all fine for us.”
She said that her business is a destination, so when there wasn’t parking, it didn’t seem right.
“They weren’t very organized in terms of communicating from the top down,” she said of city officials at the time of the closures.
Charlotte Andersen owns Andersen’s Danish Bakery and Restaurant in the 1100 block of State Street. For her, making the street a promenade has been a long time coming — since the 1970s, to be exact.
“In the ‘70s, my parents opened the bakery, and from that time, my dad was trying to get the city to close it like in Copenhagen,” she told the News-Press, referring to Strøget, a pedestrian, car-free shopping area in Denmark.
She said her father, Alfred Andersen, went to the city council multiple times and the owner of the building at the time.
“It’s really important to me to have people know that we’ve been fighting since the ‘70s. That was a big thing which would have helped a long time ago,” Ms. Andersen said.
She supports more housing downtown as well, with hopes that more people would come to work at Andersen’s. When it comes to landscaping and decorations, though, the owner was hesitant.
“Absolutely yes,” she said to sprucing up State Street. “But within reason, because the taxpayers are going to have to pay for all of these situations. It’d be good for everybody to have a say.”