MAIN STREET — After a dismal year for retailers, Main Street merchants are grasping for ways to boost sales.
This month, they’re banding together to launch “Last Fridays,” on Jan. 29. Participating stores will be staying open late and holding special events to bring in customers. The event is planned to take place the last Friday of each month and piggybacks on a similar event held the first Friday of each month in Venice’s Abbot Kinney shopping district.
Laura Owen, vice chair of the Main Street Business Improvement Association, which is organizing “Last Fridays,” said the weak economy prompted the group to kick off the event in January, several months before Main Street’s busy season begins.
“I think any other year we might of waited,” she said. “But the merchants are wanting something now.
“We’re always looking to see what could bring more business to Main Street, especially in this economy.”
Owen, who owns clothing store GIOIA, said shoppers can expect a range of different offerings from Main Street shops. Live music, cross promotions with restaurants and free food are all expected to be in the mix.
If the Abbot Kinney version of the event is any guide, “Last Fridays” could become a Mecca for gourmet food trucks. As many as 19 of the trucks have shown up for Venice’s “First Fridays” promotion.
Matthew Geller, vice president of an association of food truck vendors, said his group is interested in discussing ways for food trucks to participate in Last Fridays without negatively impacting Main Street merchants. He said welcoming the trucks could mean bigger crowds for Main Street stores, especially since he said there’s been little publicity surrounding “Last Fridays.”
“They haven’t done a very good job of getting the word out,” Geller said. “We have something that people want to partake in and If they let us, we’ll do our best to make their event really successful.”
Owen said some members of her group have already expressed concern about the trucks siphoning off business from restaurants. While there’s been discussion about ways to limit gourmet food trucks’ impact at the January event, she said no decisions have been made. One idea, she said, was to ask trucks to park only at the north and south ends of the commercial district.
“We’re very protective of our restaurants not being hurt by [food trucks],” she said.
Geller said he’s reached out to the Main Street merchant association through the group’s Web site but hasn’t yet discussed the issue with the association’s members.