Los Altos’ downtown street closure program will continue through the end of September, the city council decided during its Tuesday (June 23) meeting.
The unanimous vote provides a timeline for Open Streets Los Altos, after a trial run took place last weekend that allowed restaurants to place tables in the streets. Main and State streets will continue to be closed to vehicular traffic from First Street through Fourth Street, from Thursday mornings to Monday mornings.
The resolution asked for the council to close streets through the end of October, but council members said they felt more comfortable with September. The end date will coincide with the last week of the Los Altos Farmers’ Market, which runs on State Street through Sept. 24. The city estimated that the street closures would cost $75,000 if they were to run through October. The figures include a projected $25,000 each for temporary Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant ramps and signage.
During last week’s meeting, city officials presented results from a survey of downtown businesses regarding the first weekend of street closures. Nearly two-thirds of the 49 respondents reported their sales figures were either higher or the same compared to the prior weekend, but more than half said their numbers were still lower compared to the same weekend last year. Twenty-eight businesses said they used the additional outdoor space.
Collaboration in progress
Officials also summarized feedback from two webinars held with 25 business owners June 22. Both retailers and restaurants asked for a consistent timeline for the street closures. Patrons did not encounter problems with parking and largely adhered to social-distancing guidelines, according to the feedback presented.
At least one restaurant owner lamented how retailers and restaurants were being pitted against one another. Retail shops generally saw lower foot traffic and sales based on the webinar feedback, though the city did not release data specific to retailers.
“We really don’t feel that the data reflects properly the feelings and sentiments of the merchants,” said Khatchig Jingirian, the president of Smythe & Cross Fine Jewelry, a shop on Main Street. “For the downtown area to be vibrant, we need a healthy mix of restaurants and other merchants as well. The merchants right now are feeling very neglected through this process”
Jingirian said he had started a “merchant committee,” which was meeting last week to form a more unified voice, collect data that is more representative of retailers and discuss ways to better partner with the downtown restaurant community.
“I feel the pain on the restaurant side, but now we are having the pain on our side,” said Millie Talledo, owner of Répéter, a clothing store on State Street. “Closing the street is affecting us and it’s reflecting in our numbers.”
Engineering services director Jim Sandoval, however, noted instances of retailers and restaurants collaborating, such as stores letting restaurants set up tables outside their businesses during certain hours.
“There are a number of examples where (retail shops and restaurants) are working together to make this work,” Sandoval said. “For some of the retail shops, at first it was annoying to them, but eventually they worked out a compromise.”
Residents voice support
A number of residents spoke in support of the street closures, recapping the enjoyable weekend they spent downtown.
“It was an absolute delight to see Los Altos vibrant and safe in a responsible manner with dining in the streets,” said Los Altos resident Boris Teksler, who went downtown twice. “It was really reminiscent of pre-COVID times. … It’s nourishment for the soul. It comes at a time when many of us have COVID-fatigue, and it promotes good neighborhood mental health.”
Patrick Andersson, another resident, said he felt like “we had our town back.”
“My heart lies with the restaurants for sure,” Andersson said. “We can work together as a town to make this work for us and make this a much longer project.”
Steven Aldrich visited the area on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. He enjoyed meals outside, bought running shoes at A Runner’s Mind and picked up takeout for dinner.
“The whole weekend experience made us very comfortable,” Aldrich said. “It made us confident in spending more time downtown.”