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.
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."