CITYWIDE — Despite dire predictions of hellfire, brimstone and bumper-to-bumper traffic, the much-feared (and much-hyped) “Carmageddon” that was expected to ravage all of Los Angeles last weekend was somewhat similar to the Rapture two months before — if it happened, most people didn’t notice.
That’s because, in large part, people seemed to stay home, which presented real opportunities for local businesses that could take advantage of the glut of trapped customers.
CalTrans boasted to media outlets that its aggressive print, broadcast and social media campaigns kept two-thirds of drivers off of compromised roadways, making travel possible for that recalcitrant 30 percent.
In Santa Monica, locals and local businesses jumped at the chance to market Carmageddon-themed deals, like $4.05 menus at Angel’s and the Daily Grill, or drinks with names like “Flat Tire” beers and “Road Rage.”
And, in large part, it worked.
Businesses that could draw people in as gathering places reported that they had done well over the weekend, said Kim Koury, owner of Spin Public Relations.
To some degree, Koury and a team of friends, all young professionals in Santa Monica, are somewhat to blame for that.
She and three compatriots — Michael Kucera, Anastasia Roark and Derek Pruett — formed a team of entrepreneurs, social media and publicity experts that created www.car-mageddon.com, a clearinghouse for events across Los Angeles.
The team also produced videos, created T-shirts and merchandise and reached out to local businesses to encourage 405 specials to create a party atmosphere out of what was expected to be a car apocalypse.
Car-mageddon.com debuted three weeks before the actual event, complete with a calendar, maps and a countdown to the closure.
Each listing cost a business $50, according to the website.
A percentage of those proceeds and that of the T-shirts will go to Gocampaign.org, which builds infrastructure to benefit children in third world countries, Koury said.
The team organized a kick-off party at Wokcano on Fifth Street, complete with themed attire and prizes, and sat back to examine the fruits of their labor.
A follow-up with businesses showed positive reactions.
“It was fantastic,” wrote Will O’Sullivan of O’Brien’s Irish Pub on Wilshire Boulevard to Koury. “We were busy when other businesses were slow. People at the bar all week were Googling car-mageddon.com. You guys really got the word out.”
At Locanda del LAGO, an Italian restaurant on the Third Street Promenade, manager Megan Sheehy said business was steady throughout the weekend despite losing some customers from the San Fernando Valley who may have visited Santa Monica to take advantage of the warm weather.
“Sales were what we were expecting,” she said. “We’re happy.”
The restaurant offered discounts on appetizers and cocktails, trimming down prices by several dollars.
One business that kept its sales up was Tel’s Barber Shop on Pico Boulevard near Virginia Avenue Park and the Saturday Farmer’s Market.
Owner Tel Trujillo said his four barbers were steadily cutting heads all weekend long, something he attributes to his loyal customer base.
“Overall, it worked out quite well, just like any other busy weekend,” he said. “Some of our customers said business was slow around town because nobody wanted to get in their cars. Farmers at the market across the street said it was slow, too.”
Not so for the Downtown Farmers’ Market, said Laura Avery, the supervisor for Santa Monica’s markets.
Despite record numbers of cancellations, the vendors that did come did brisk business, and crowds were at normal capacity, she said.
“It was stress-free for the farmers and the customers,” Avery said.
Sales were also steady at clothing boutique Twist on Ocean Park Boulevard, where shoppers received steep discounts on clothes and accessories. Manager Monica Koga said a lot of customers coming in over Carmageddon weekend were locals who happened to pass by while walking.
“We saw people we hadn’t seen in awhile so it was a good chance to remind people we’re still here,” she said.
Twist used social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter to advertise specials, which included gift certificates. One was for $50 worth of merchandise for only $25.
Even businesses like Bark Pet Photography, which advertised a special called the 4-0-Fido Discount, saw an uptick in bookings, although mostly from outside of the area.
“They were taking advantage of the deal no matter where they were,” said co-owner Kim Rodgers, talking about the 20 percent discount offered on bookings made before July 17.
Although she and co-owner Sarah Sypniewski were expecting to be hyperlocal, bookings came in for future weekends from Beverly Hills and Palos Verdes Estates, Rodgers said.
“We certainly didn’t lose business, and it was good exposure, all the hype,” she said.
But the Carmageddon tide did not float all boats.
Tourist-centered businesses, like the Pedal or Not Electric Bike Experience, a shop that both sells electric bicycles and offers tours on rented bikes, got hit by the hunker-down attitude, said Stephen Wittels, the general manager.
Despite a $405 discount on the electric bikes, of which they sold two, it was an overall-loser for the business.
It was the first weekend the business didn’t sell out its bike tours. Two Sunday tours left half-full, and Saturday only one tour was filled up.
“It was disappointing,” Wittels said. “It impacted our business negatively. We can sell a bike any day, but we can’t get back those empty hours.”
John Santos, floor manager at Santa Monica Car Wash and Detail on Pico Boulevard, said the weekends tend to be the busiest for his employees but during Carmageddon, there was a noticeable dip in the number of cars cleaned.
“I would say that business was down probably 30 percent,” Santos said. “It hit us pretty bad.”
Santos said the media attention the closure received “scared the hell out of people,” which made many deviate from their normal routines, which include getting their cars washed on Saturdays before going out on the town that night.
“I think it was too much,” Santos said of the warnings about traffic nightmares.
That hype kept people off the roads and in their communities to enjoy the pleasures of home, Koury said.
“The funniest things is that it’s Carmageddon in L.A. every day except Carmageddon weekend,” she said. “I loved being able to walk around, be with neighbors and barbecue. It worked, worked very well.”
Will the L.A. area get so lucky next year, when a similar shutdown is planned?
It’s impossible to say, although some who got a taste for the free flow of traffic hope that it can be a more regular occurrence.
Koga, the manager at Twist who lives in Culver City, said she was concerned about traffic jams but her commute was about the same as during a normal weekend.
“It was really nice,” she said of the open roads. “I think we should do this once a month.”