Mission Merchants Approve of Sunday Streets

The massive Sunday Streets in the Mission two days ago was touted by organizers and Mayor Gavin Newsom’s office as an event that would bring shoppers to the neighborhood and improve sales in a very difficult economy. After walking the route and speaking with the owners and managers of nine businesses, I think it’s safe to say that, by and large, merchants cheered the car-free event for not only adding to business but improving the neighborhood.

3605063109_5bd3f4e9ac_b.jpgPhoto by Bryan Goebel

Dema Grim, owner of Dema, a women’s clothing boutique on Valencia Street, was effusive about Sunday Streets’ positive impact on her business. "Fifth best day in my career here, spanning eleven years," said Grim.

"I think people were here for the event, definitely," she said, adding that she had prepared for the increase in customers. "I also had a big promotion, everything in the store was on sale, and pretty much everyone who came in bought something. I also did a lot of outreach through my Facebook page, letting people know it was happening."

Grim echoed a complaint of many of the other merchants that, while she was notified about Sunday Streets, many residents were not. Still, she said she was going to have a table on the sidewalk for the July 19th Sunday Streets and she planned to hire a DJ to add some ambiance outside her store. And she hoped Sunday Streets would be back "every Sunday, in the summer anyway."

George Prokopos, owner of George’s BBQ on 24th Street, said he saw many more customers than usual. "Oh yeah. Yeah, it was busy," said Prokopos.

He only requested that future Sunday Streets be longer. "It would be a lot better if it went until four o’clock," Prokopos said. "For business owners, it was good."

He also appreciated the event’s vibe. "It was no trouble, it was mellow. The kids were playing."

Some business owners expressed ambivalence about Sunday Streets’ effect on sales, while praising the exposure it brought to the neighborhood. Dave Hawkins, owner of Lost Weekend Video on Valencia Street, said that while sales were not impacted, he viewed the event as a positive for business on the whole.

"When you have 300 people walking in the middle of the road, it’s gonna be better than not having 300 people walking in the middle of the road," he said.

Business aside, he praised Sunday Streets for bringing life to the street. "It’s just fun to break the monotony. It’s really fun anytime there’s sort of a change in the scenario of the street, I think it’s an interesting thing."

Galen Nishioka, an assistant manager at Valencia Cyclery, had similar feelings. "I thought it was great. It got people out, riding bikes, walking, riding skateboards," said Nishioka. "We had an increase in the number of customers, not necessarily a lot more business dollar-wise, but just on the frequency of customers coming in."

Like Prokopos, Nishioka asked that future Sunday Streets continue running later. "I think 2 o’clock is probably a little early for the cutoff, especially on a Sunday. People get up late and they don’t get going until 10 or 11 o’clock."

Alvin Orloff, owner of Dog Eared Books, also found that Sunday Streets provided a slight sales bump. "Our sales were up just a little teeny bit," said Orloff. "It certainly didn’t hurt."

While the sales increase was modest, he appreciated the increased traffic through the store. "It was fun. A lot of people came into the store who I don’t think had ever been here before. Sundays are generally kind of busy, but it was busy in a different way and that was nice." He said the bookstore would prepare for the next Mission Sunday Streets, on July 19, by keeping a few extra people on staff.

One business owner did express serious concerns about Sunday Streets’ impact on sales.

Alicia Gutierrez, owner of La Reyna Bakery on 24th Street, found that the street closure kept away regular customers while attracting few new ones. "The people who came, if they got off to buy something…they’d buy one piece of bread for four people, so that doesn’t help us."

She said that many regular customers were inconvenienced. "People come in on the weekends to buy stuff for the whole week. It’s a lot of money. A lot of people didn’t show up."

Lone among the merchants interviewed, Gutierrez said that she would rather Sunday Streets not return. "I would rather them not do it. A park is a better place to do that, instead of here." Barring that, she said, "Maybe I won’t bake as much, I’ll cut down on the workers, maybe even close. So, yeah, it doesn’t really help."

Several blocks down 24th Street at Café La Boheme, owner Awad Faddoul expressed more enthusiasm for Sunday Streets. "It was great," said Faddoul. Although business "wasn’t extra", he said the event introduced a new set of people to his cafe and to the neighborhood.

"We decided to help in the event by making my son and my daughter stand outside with big buckets of clean water with ice. We gave everybody free water, which is probably a small thing. But I think it was good, because it wasn’t intended to make more money for us, as much as to represent the neighborhood for strangers. We participate in building this neighborhood to a better level."

He hoped Sunday Streets would open up the Mission to more people. "There is a reputation about the Mission: it is gangs, and hard times," Faddoul said. "It is true, there’s hard things everywhere, not only in the Mission. It’s a great neighborhood, people come and go. We have the BART here. There’s a lot of different diversified people from all over the world."

While Faddoul appreciated the exposure Sunday Streets brought his business, he emphasized that the event’s impact was broader than money. "It’s always about money, but it’s not always about money," said Faddoul. "By participating and giving something very simple as ice water, it was just meant to show that there is not always just generating money, we are here for the community too."

Faddoul said he hopes Sunday Streets will return often and he had plenty of praise to spread around. "Everything was positive. The energy. The cops were very professional, they were nice as well. They were directing things right. It was great."

  • greasybear

    The merchants have it right–extend Sunday Streets to 4pm, and make it happen more often during the dry months.

  • Peter Smith

    Ms. Gutierrez needs to take a lesson from Mr. Faddoul.

  • gs

    every business is not going to be affected in the same way. in the aggregate, it was a major boon to business. a few lose out, but the majority improve, making it a net benefit for business. but, as Mr Faddoul and the guy from Lost Weekend point out, it’s not just about whether your cash register took in more money on that one day — the benefits can be long term and more lasting in that new people have been introduced to your business and familiar with the neighborhood and are more likely to come back repeatedly in the long term. that attitude is refreshing, because it always seems like business owners think so short term.

  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    I went in Dema for the first time this Sunday. Funny what you don’t notice when you pass buy on the bus or on bike.

  • Obviously there could be some negative effect on businesses along an ‘open-streets’ route, but I find it difficult to believe Ms. Gutierrez’s contentions that her urban bakery with only on-street parking was so sourly affected by the street opening.

    According to her, her regular shoppers were inconvenienced (by not being able to park on 24th St? it’s always hard to park on that street, and there’s tons of side street parking nearby); by the hordes of people walking the street? (seems unlikely, and I have to imagine that most of the bakery’s customers, even those buying baked goods for a week, walk or muni in rather than drive); without hearing more about such reasons, the anecdotal account of this business owner seems a bit fishy and like a preconceived prejudice rather than an account of what actually occurred. Am I assuming too much?

  • ZA

    @ Justin – she’s entitled to her view, however right or wrong it may be. She may not want to seem too successful from a one day event either. For my part, I prefer the bakery a bit further down 24th St.

  • Maria

    How much is it costing Tax payers to close these streets temporarily? 150K+ per event? Can we use this money to make permanent infrastructure repairs to existing parks and open space areas. Does San Francisco not have enough Street Fairs/Music Festivals to build community? I’m a walker not a bike Rider and I would not bring my children to this event. It should be marketed for what it is, another Bike event!

  • Meghan Newell

    As a resident on 18th and Valencia, I very much enjoy the concept of sunday streets, but I would prefer a bit more regulation. It would be nice if one section of the street (either bike lane or the inside parts of the car lanes) were left to through traffic. It would even be an improvement if people stayed on the right as they went in a given direction.

    I had to get from 18th to 24th st for a yoga class, and I found it very dangerous to be dodging pedestrians and bikes in a free for all.

    Parks maintain both a free for all and some structure with marked bike paths, sidewalks, and grass. It seems like that could be an example for the car free streets.

  • Helo Meghan,

    It is not safe to keep one lane open to traffic. Because there is no physical separation, it is not possible to contain people from overflowing into the traffic lane. Also there is really no need for this arrangement. The adjacent streets are open to traffic. Cars are much better off there.

    Hello Maria,

    I hope you will bring you children next time. There were lots of happy people and happy children last Sunday. It actually have a different vibe from other street festival. Maybe it is the freedom or spontaneity or simply because of the presence of so many people seeking simple fun. As far as cost is concerned, I heard that corporate sponsors bore most of the cost.

  • CBrinkman

    “How much is it costing Tax payers to close these streets temporarily? 150K+ per event?”

    I’m not sure where that number came from, but it’s not valid at all – way too high. Sunday Streets raised the money for the past 3 events from a combination of corporate partners and individual donors. Other then support from City Hall departments during the organizing process – thank you MTA, Shape UP, Mayors Office, Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services – the actual costs of the events – Police and Parking Control Officers, will be paid with the money raised.

    It’s interesting how little we question the regular day to day costs of facilitating car access in our City – and how quickly an event such as this can be tarred with the “waste of taxpayer money” brush. How much would the City save every year if we reduced the speed limit to 20 and decreased traffic crashes and injuries and deaths – I think traffic crashes are a waste of tax payer money. I think Sunday Streets deserves greater support from the City since it benefits the City in so many ways.

    Bring your children out on July 19th – they will love it. If you don’t like walking in the street – remember, the sidewalks are still there and the merchants were all reminded to keep a 48 inch wide path of travel clear at all times. Again, thanks for sharing the streets. San Franciscans are wonderful people.

  • I have to agree that Sunday Streets is tremendous value to the taxpayer. Though I like street fairs, music festivals, and parades, Sunday Streets is different in important ways. For whatever the nominal investment we get:
    1) People coming together as fellow citizens and neighbors, not as fellow consumers (street fairs).
    2) People experiencing their community actively rather than passively (watching parades, music festivals).

    We also get:
    1) People having positive encounters with the police force, which builds trust and community.
    2) People realizing just how darn nice and quiet it is without cars!
    3) Visual confirmation that we are all in this together, that the streets really do belong to us, and that joy and satisfaction can be found in things that are very, very simple.

    We will shortly be glad for every ounce of community and shared sense of responsibility for each other’s welfare that we are able to create. Think of this as invisible social infrastructure. The investment is small, the payout possibly priceless.

  • LiveInTheMission

    While I appreciate the concern about effect on business, I question the implied premise that the public space in the city belongs to the business owners. Also, I question the implication that the public streets belong to the motorists. Public space belongs to all the residents. During Sunday Streets in the Mission, objectively counting the number of residents using public space, this was the greatest density of public use of public space seen all year. Highest and best use.

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