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Street closure plan concerning for struggling retailers

The impending downtown street closures – a Los Altos City Council decision meant to encourage outdoor dining and shopping – prompted mixed reaction from local retailers.

“If restaurants are vibrant, retail is vibrant,” said Jacquie Gladney, owner of Gourmet Works on Main Street. “Restaurants really do bring people down here.”

However, the Thursday-through-Sunday closure of Main and State streets to vehicular traffic, set to begin this week as a pilot program, has some retailers feeling they’re being put at a disadvantage.

“It’s not realistic for retailers to have product on the street instead of having it on the sidewalk where it can be monitored closely,” said Katherine Janes, owner of Cooks’ Junction on Main Street.

However, Janes said she will have some merchandise outside.

Chris Kendall, owner of the Yum Yum Tree women’s clothing store on Main Street, said putting merchandise outdoors would be difficult to monitor as well as risk damaging material in the sun. But she was more concerned the lack of nearby parking as a result of the street closures would discourage her older customers.

“Parking is precious to us,” she said.

Loosened Santa Clara County public health restrictions have only recently allowed limited in-store shopping and curbside pickup, prompting an obvious uptick in downtown activity in recent weeks.

“People are thrilled to be shopping again,” said Belinda Chung, owner of the BK Collections gift store on State Street. “Over the weekend, people were very enthusiastic the stores are open. They can’t wait to come in – online is not the same (as in-person shopping).”

Supporting both retailers, restaurants

Backers of the street closure effort, including the Los Altos Chamber of Commerce and the Los Altos Village Association, see the decision as a compromise. They point out the partial-week closure, as opposed to a full-time closure as with Castro Street in Mountain View, gives the retailers Monday through Wednesday for nearby parking. The Thursday-through-Sunday time frame was chosen to accommodate restaurants’ busiest days.

“Their busy days are our busy days,” said Khatchig Jingirian, president of Smythe & Cross Fine Jewelry on Main Street. “Now we’re going into our busy season, and we’re being pulled back.”

Jingirian led a city council petition of more than 25 local retailers opposing the street closure move. His believes street closures are bad for retail business.

“This was presented as a compromise,” he said. “There was no compromise, whatsoever.”

While Jingirian is supportive of the restaurants – he stressed he is not coming from an “us versus them” position – he felt city leaders and other supporters treated the retailers as an afterthought.

Janes echoed Jingirian’s sentiments.

“When attending the first meeting with the city, it seemed like a decision was already made instead of weighing out all perspectives,” she said.

In mulling over partial or full street closure options, council members decided the full closure would allow restaurants the maximum number of outdoor diners while adhering to social-distancing guidelines.

Chamber president Kim Mosley stressed support for both retail and restaurants.

“Our businesses are in an unprecedented time of financial hardship due to this pandemic. We must provide safe opportunities for our community members to come out and support both retailers and restaurants again,” she said. “Social distancing is absolutely necessary, and the Thursday-through-Sunday opening of the streets to pedestrians is something many residents are excited about. We now need our residents to come out and shop and dine. … Together we can help all of our businesses survive.”

Janes said she’s willing to move forward and give the street closure plan a chance.

“We need to see how it works and make adjustments,” she said. “We may all have a different perspective of what’s right for our business, but need to weigh out what’s best for everyone. … There is obviously a lot of change happening, and it’s clearly uncomfortable, but I am grateful that the city is making an effort to help us all.”

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